Michael Fry, senior associate in DLA Piper’s Real Estate Group provides an update on the progress of Neighbourhood Development Plans


irst introduced in the Localism Act 2011 and with further support for neighbourhood planning expected

in the near future, developers need to understand the effect of neighbourhood plans and engage with their processes to ensure their sites are not left behind. Neighbourhood planning gives local

communities direct power to formulate and shape development in their local area. Through development and implementation of Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs), local communities can now set planning policy which, once established, will become part of the Local Plan for that area – with the same legal status. Decisions on planning applications must

now take into account both the Local Plan and the NDP, unless material considera- tions indicate otherwise. In housing terms, communities with NDPs can allocate their own development sites, effectively pushing the development into certain places and limiting it in others.

SUCCESS SO FAR The Government has been quick to declare neighbourhood planning a success. Over 230 NDPs have come into force since 2012 and the Government often claims that, in areas with an NDP in place, there has been a 10 per cent increase in housing alloca- tions. Additional support and funding is also likely to increase. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill 2016-17, for example, will further strengthen neighbourhood planning by “ensuring the planning decision-makers

take account of well-advanced NDPs and by giving NDPs full legal effect at an earlier stage.” As it stands, neighbourhood planning can

cause frustration for locals and developers. If the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliver- able housing sites, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) says that relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up to date. In other words, housing policies in the NDP may be given significantly less weight in the planning balance without a five year supply. Currently, housing applications in areas

without a five year housing land supply are considered, in the context of the presump- tion, in favour of sustainable development. As a result, planning permission should be granted, unless other NPPF policies block development, or the adverse impacts of the development significantly outweigh the benefits of the provision of housing.

FURTHER FRUSTRATION AHEAD At the end of 2016, Gavin Barwell MP made a Ministerial statement setting out new policy which significantly tilts the balance towards NDPs. This new policy means the local authori-

ties will only need to provide evidence that they have a three year housing land supply, rather than the current requirement to show a five year housing land supply. The lowered burden on local authorities will, in effect, make it much harder for developers

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to secure planning permission for new housing developments which are not in full compliance with policies of the Local Plan. This puts developers at a significant disad- vantage. A group of 25 housebuilders and land promoters has recently launched a judicial review against the statement, describing the policy as “illogical and irrational”. Announcments in the housing White

Paper in February proposed no more than a gloss on the policy, adding that to qualify for the protection, “neighbourhoods should be able to demonstrate that their site allocations and housing supply policies will meet their share of local housing needs.”

STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE With increasing momentum shifting towards neighbourhood planning, develop- ers should stay up to date with policy changes, both nationally and locally. They need to engage fully with neighbourhood planning processes, and there are likely to be significant benefits from being a local developer familiar with the neighbourhood. NDPs also have to meet a number of conditions and are subject to various consultations and examinations before approval, which gives developers numerous opportunities to object and raise their concerns, or to propose development sites. NDPs are adopted through a referendum

of local people – and local people might need to be reminded of the social and economic benefits to a neighbourhood.

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