Earlier this year, in April, the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 gained Royal Assent and several of its provisions have come into force. The Act reinforces the Government’s commitment to neighbourhood planning and seeks to clarify several emerging issues for those involved in the process.
It is hard to believe that the first Neighbourhood Plan referendum took place in March 2013. Over the intervening four and a half years there have been almost 350 other Plans which have now reached this referendum stage. The overwhelming majority of Plans have been supported by their communities which means that the majority of residents who turned out at the referendum have voted in favour.
For the City Plan Team, we have also seen the government’s commitment to Neighbourhood Planning at first hand through our application to the support programme which is offered to communities working on their Plan.
As we mentioned briefly last month we have been able to access this support and we are currently working with an advisor who is carrying out an Evidence Base and Policy Review of the Ripon City Plan.
Overall, the entire process of accessing this support has been incredibly efficient. From submitting an expression of interest for support to having confirmation of an advisor took less than four weeks in total.
Having been in touch with a Neighbourhood Planning Champion working in a nearby local authority, who advised about the availability of the support packages, the team have felt the need for this additional support prior to submitting the Plan because we recognise that the Ripon City Plan is a complex Neighbourhood Plan, particularly, as we have said before because the new draft District Local Plan is still emerging and changing.
Over the weeks, we have also been keeping our eyes on what is happening nationally with Neighbourhood Plans.
There have been some recent examples where a number of neighbourhood plans have failed at the independent examination stage, and therefore have not proceeded to referendum. In the majority of these cases this has been because the examiner has felt that the basic conditions have not been met or the evidence which supports the Plan is not sufficiently robust.
As a small team of volunteers, we have taken the time which we believe has been necessary to prepare a Ripon City Plan which delivers the aspirations of the community for the future of the city.
However, the evidence base and policy review process, will give us some feedback and hopefully will enable us to formally submit the Plan to Harrogate Borough Council as the local planning authority and move forward over the coming weeks.
Once the Plan is formally submitted, there is a process laid out which includes a further round of consultation, organised by Harrogate Borough Council, before the independent examination process and then the referendum. As we move towards submission further discussions will be taking place about the timescales and when potentially the referendum may take place.
And finally, back to the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017. Another important change for Neighbourhood Plan teams is that once a community votes in favour at a referendum then it becomes an active plan. No longer do communities which have worked hard to prepare their Plan need to wait for their local council to formally adopt the Plan as planning policy for their area.