A Neighbourhood plan is a planning document that communities can put together to set out how they would like their town, parish or village to develop over the next 15 years.
It will set out policies relating to how land is used and developed, like the Local Plan, but at a much more local level. It will form part of the criteria against which any new planning applications will be judged within that specific local area. A Neighbourhood Plan has to undergo a number of formal processes to ensure it is robust and well-evidenced. This includes two formal consultation periods, independent examination and a public referendum. If successful, the plan will be adopted by Colchester Borough Council as part of the development plan and your community will have set out its detailed policies for future development in the Neighbourhood area.
A Parish Council can submit an application for a Neighbourhood Area. Alternatively, where there is no parish council, a Neighbourhood Forum can be formed and submit an application for a Neighbourhood Area. An application for a Neighbourhood Area must be submitted to the local authority and depending on the application, it may have to go through public consultation before it is formally designated.
The Neighbourhood plan has to be formally led by the Qualifying Body which is generally the Parish/Town Council or Neighbourhood Forum however a steering group comprising both members of the public and local councillors could also be established as a sub-group of the qualifying body. Working Groups could also be formed to investigate the specific themes that will emerge for the plan.
Generally, a Neighbourhood plan will look at issues associated with use and development of land within the Neighbourhood area. The policies need to be related to development; however, the plan can include other issues that are not related to land use as an appendix which may help with future provision of facilities such as allotments or other community aspirations.
Community involvement is a very important part of the plan preparation. There is a requirement to consult the wider community (including statutory bodies) at various stages in the plan preparation process to allow people to comment on the plan. When the draft plan is submitted to the Council it will have to be checked to ensure that it is generally in line with local and national planning policies and any other relevant legislation and has followed the correct procedures. Following a second round of consultation organised by the Council, an independent examiner is then appointed to check that the Plan meets the basic conditions.
The final decision as to whether the plan is the right one or not lies with the people who live in the area covered by the neighbourhood plan. A referendum will be held asking one question with a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer:
“Do you want Colchester Borough Council to use the neighbourhood plan for [insert name of neighbourhood area] to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?”
For the plan to be adopted by the Council more than 50% of the people who vote must answer ‘Yes’ to the above question. If it is less than 50% then it cannot be adopted.
If the plan achieves support from more than 50% of the vote at the referendum, the Council will adopt the neighbourhood development plan. Once a neighbourhood plan has been adopted it becomes part of the statutory development plan for Colchester and will be used when considering planning applications alongside all other national and local policies.