Following the publishing of the Housing and Planning White Paper on Tuesday I thought it might be helpful to circulate a summary of the implications for the Wareham Neighbourhood Plan and the options for next steps.
Support for Neighbourhood Planning
The White Paper reiterates the Governments strong support for neighbourhood planning (para 1.41). The Neighbourhood Planning Bill currently before parliament already contains a number of measures to encourage the preparation of neighbourhood plans by giving them full weight in the planning process as early as possible and streamlining the procedure for modifying a plan or area. The White Paper confirms that they will make further funding available from 2018-2020.
The White Paper sets out the Government’s intention to consult on options for introducing a more standardised approach to assessing housing requirements. The Local Plans Expert Group concluded that a more standardised methodology was one of the most important reforms that could be made to improve plan-making, and the principle of a more consistent approach was supported by many of those who commented on their report. However, there is no agreement within the industry on the methodology to be adopted. A further consultation is expected on this issue and it is likely to be several months before there is an agreed approach. The White Paper also refers to a standardised methodology for assessing the five-year land supply to be in place by April 2018 and it is expected that the housing needs methodology will also be in place before then. This is clearly going to impact on the timescale for the District Council’s Local Plan Partial Review.
The White Paper proposes that National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) be amended to enable neighbourhood planning groups to obtain a housing requirement from their local planning authority. The methodology for this is not set out and will be the subject of a later consultation (para A.65). It is likely to be several months before this methodology is agreed. To guide the preparation of the Neighbourhood Plan our Planning Advisor, Jo Witherden, is finalising a housing requirement based on the methodology set out in Housing Needs Assessment at Neighbourhood Plan Level - A toolkit for neighbourhood planners (2015) prepared by Locality.
The White paper states that 73% of people say that they would support the building of more homes if they were well designed and in keeping with their local area. As a result, Government proposes that neighbourhood plans should set out clear design expectations following for new development. Tools such as design codes which respond to local character and provide a clear basis for decisions on planning applications are suggested (para1.46).
The importance of protecting the Green Belt is reiterated (para 1.37). The “exceptional circumstances” test in current NPPF is to remain and it is proposed to amend NPPF to make it clear that Green Belt boundaries should only be amended where authorities can demonstrate that they have fully examined all other reasonable options including suitable brownfield sites, surplus public sector land, optimizing the proposed density of development and exploring whether other authorities can help meet some of the housing requirement (para 1.39).
A number of other changes to Green Belt policy are proposed including that where a local plan has demonstrated the need for Green Belt boundaries to be amended the detailed boundary may be determined through a neighbourhood plan. This recognises the role of neighbourhood plans as part of the statutory development plan, while the need for a referendum before a neighbourhood plan can be finalised (‘made’) will ensure that local people have a full say in the process. Neighbourhood plans would not be able to change the general extent of the Green Belt, which would remain a strategic matter. This would enable the Neighbourhood Plan to amend the boundary, for example, in the Westminster Road area, but only if the local plan has demonstrated the need for the Green Belt boundaries to be amended. Safeguards against inappropriate changes are already in place through the requirement for an Independent Examination of the plan and the need to secure a majority through a referendum.
Restrictions on Development
The White Paper makes it clear that “Council’s identified housing requirement should be accommodated unless there are policies elsewhere in the National Planning Policy Framework that provide strong reasons for restricting development” (para A37). These are specified as “policies relating to sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives (see paragraph 119) and/or designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; land designated as Green Belt, Local Green Space, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Heritage Coast or within a National Park (or the Broads Authority); Ancient Woodland and aged or veteran trees; designated heritage assets (and other heritage assets of archaeological interest referred to in paragraph 139); and locations at risk of flooding or coastal erosion”. This confirms the key constraints that should determine development allocations in the area.
That the Neighbourhood Plan be progressed rather than delayed due to the Partial Review
That consultation takes place with the local community on the emerging proposals
That a clear statement of the design expectations for key sites and areas of the town are included in the Plan
David Evans – Vice Chair