Thursday, April 16, 2015

After the NDP referendum

Neighbourhood development plans, the referendum
and after

This blog discusses the issues raised from the
experience of drawing up a Neighbourhood Development
Plan and putting it to examination and referendum
‘material consideration’, and it would be reasonable
for a decision-maker to give substantial weight to
comments based on the substantial evidence base
represented by a draft NDP even if ‘the people’ had
not yet formally endorsed it.
A DCLG official has also agreed that it would be
reasonable in following section 38(6) for a decision maker
to give substantial weight to an NDP based on
substantial evidence, even if it failed its referendum.
Parish Council representations must be given
weight whether there is an NDP in preparation or
not. It would be perverse to give less and not more
weight to representations based on evidence
collected from the local population over a number of
years and through considerable expense in time and
money, just because of a failure to secure the
majority vote at a referendum. Such a failure could
be due to opposition to a single controversial
proposal or policy.
In these circumstances, asking, as the current
regulations require, whether the plan should be
‘used to help in making decisions’ is pointless, as
the plan must be taken into account whatever the
result of the referendum.
Given that the effect of an NDP receiving a simple
majority vote is that it becomes the ‘development
plan’ for the neighbourhood area for the purposes of
section 38(6), this should have been the question
put in the referendum. If this is too legalistic for the
voters to understand, then the question could relate
to another real effect of a ‘yes’ vote – whether more
weight should be given to the NDP than the Local
Plan covering the same area. However, in order to
cast a vote on this question, it would reasonably be
necessary for the electorate to know the contents
of the relevant Local Plan and be able to compare
its effect against the possible effect of the NDP (at
least one honest villager spoiled their voting paper,
being unable to make this comparison).
Over 1,000 NDPs are in preparation and over 50
have received support at referendum. It is not yet
known how many such plans have been tested at
committee or appeal in the determination of
applications by local planning authorities or the
Secretary of State. However, in the knowledge that
very few people would have been either able or
willing to read, understand and compare an NDP
with the relevant Local Plan, it might be reasonable
(in silent defiance of the regulations) in the exercise
of their judgement for a decision-maker to give little
or no more weight to a Neighbourhood Plan that got
its majority than to one that did not.
In my village about 30% of those entitled to vote
supported the NDP without, I would suggest,
carrying out the relevant comparison but as a show
of solidarity with those people who had put the
time and effort into the preparation of the plan. This
does not appear to be a good or sufficient reason to
raise a plan prepared by lay volunteers to the status
of the ‘development plan’ in substitution for a Local
Plan prepared by professionals. It will be very
interesting to see the feedback from professional
planners when they have had experience of giving
development plan status to NDP policies.
Without very close supervision over the
preparation of NDPs in a way that preserves the
spirit of ‘localism’, planning officers are likely to find
themselves trying to apply policies which are
insufficiently precise, prescriptive or proscriptive to
form a sound and reasonable basis for decision making
in accordance with section 38(6).

1 D. Lock: ‘CMK Business Neighbourhood Plan megaballots’.
Town & Country Planning, 2015, Vol. 84, Feb.,
2 Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for
Communities and Local Government Penny Mordaunt,
reported in Hansard, 4 Mar. 2015, Column 360WH.
3 Section 38(6) states: ‘If regard is to be had to the
development plan for the purpose of any determination
to be made under the planning Acts the determination
must be made in accordance with the plan unless
material considerations indicate otherwise.’
184 Town & Country Planning April 2015

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