The Localism Act (2011) introduced several new rights and powers to allow local communities to shape new development, including the provision to prepare a ‘Neighbourhood Plan’ for their area. A neighbourhood plan can set out policies for the location of houses, shops, and offices, or set design standards for new development. It can also address climate change by incorporating policies on renewable energy, net zero buildings and active travel opportunities.

In “parished” areas, Neighbourhood Plans can only be undertaken by the relevant Town or Parish Council or combination of Town/Parish Councils if the area straddles boundaries. Elsewhere, they may be prepared by a duly constituted ‘neighbourhood forum’.

Preparation of a Neighbourhood Plan is optional; it is effectively an alternative to a Parish or Town Council working in partnership with the District Council – see the About the Local Plan page.

Like Local Plans, Neighbourhood Plans are statutory plans, the process for which is legally prescribed, and, when made, form part of the ‘development plan’ for the area.

All Neighbourhood Plans must be in general conformity with the strategic policies for an area (which is generally taken to be a Council’s Core Strategy or equivalent Local Plan) as well as have regard to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Process, Guidance and Support

Guidance on the process is available on the Planning Practice Guidance website. As with a Local Plan, a Neighbourhood Plan will be subject to an independent examination. However, it additionally requires a local referendum to be held to ensure that the community has the final say on whether the plan comes into force or not.

The legal context for preparation of neighbourhood plans is provided by the Localism Act and the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations.

Along with support of the District Council, communities can also seek assistance in the form of grants and/or technical support through a Government programme run by Locality. For more information on this, go to My Community.

The District Council will provide advice and assistance to Neighbourhood Plan groups, particularly in relation to site assessments, drafting policies and Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA).

Strategic Environmental Assessment

Unlike the situation for Local Plans, there is no legal requirement for a Neighbourhood Plan to have a Sustainability Appraisal (SA), as set out in section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. However, a qualifying body must demonstrate how its plan or order will contribute to achieving sustainable development. So whilst an SA is not legally required, neighbourhood planning authorities may find that the SA approach is a useful way forward.

However, in certain circumstances, a Neighbourhood Plan may require an SEA. Examples of where SEA may be required for Neighbourhood Plans, include:

  • Where a Neighbourhood Plan allocates sites for development
  • Where the Neighbourhood Area contains sensitive natural or heritage assets that may be affected by the proposals in the plan
  • Where the Neighbourhood Plan is likely to have significant environmental effects that have not already been considered and dealt with through an SA of the Local Plan

For more information, please visit the Neighbourhood Plan SEA page.

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