Wealden District Council

Neighbourhood Planning FAQ's

Neighbourhood planning is a new part of the planning system. It gives local communities the option to create statutory plans for managing future development in their area. For some time communities have had the power to produce local community planning documents which have had some weight in the planning process and this remains the case. However, neighbourhood planning is different because it sits alongside the District's Local Plan and has full status as part of the statutory development plan. The Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 (external link) give detailed information about neighbourhood planning.

Neighbourhood Planning offers communities the option to produce three slightly different spatial planning tools. Neighbourhood Development Plans, Neighbourhood Development Orders, and Community Right to Build Orders. Collectively these are often referred to as 'neighbourhood plans' or as 'neighbourhood planning'. All of these must be compatible with national and local planning policies and are subject to a consultation process, an independent examination and a local referendum. If the local community votes in favour, then the plan is adopted by the Local Planning Authority.

Neighbourhood Development Plans set out policies on local development and land allocations in a neighbourhood area. Once adopted, a neighbourhood development plan will be used when determining planning applications.

Neighbourhood Development Orders grant planning permission for specific types of development within a neighbourhood area. Once adopted, these orders allow new development of the specified type to be built in that area without further planning permission. Permission could be full or outline, could have conditions attached and could be site-specific or grant more generalised development rights across a neighbourhood area.

Community Right to Build Orders are a particular type of development order, they enable a specially constituted local community organisation (not necessarily a town or parish council) to propose small scale development. Any benefit or profit from this development stays within the community to be used for the community's not for private gain, for example, to maintain affordable housing stock or to provide and maintain local facilities such as playgrounds and village halls. In the same was as Neighbourhood Development Orders, once approved, the organisation can go ahead with the development without a separate traditional planning application.

Where a town or parish council exists, it is automatically the 'qualifying body' responsible for preparing a Neighbourhood Development Plan, Neighbourhood Development Order or Community Right to Build Order. The local council still needs to apply for designation of a specific neighbourhood area as the first formal step in the neighbourhood planning process. It is important to engage the wider community early on to make sure the Plan or Order represents the views of the local community as this will be tested by referendum. Town and parish councils cover the majority of Wealden, with just three smaller parish meetings where alternative arrangements apply.

Local authorities have a statutory duty to support and advise organisations which want to do neighbourhood planning. They are also required to fund the referendum process and the costs of running the examination and appointing and funding the independent examiner for an examination. Wealden District Council will offer officer advice on emerging Neighbourhood Plans in its area.

Wealden District Council and South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA) are the planning authorities for separate parts of the District. There are six parishes which cross into both Wealden and the SDNPA: Alciston, Berwick, Long Man, Willingdon and Jevington, Polegate, and Selmeston. Only a very small proportion of Polegate and Selmeston cross into the SDNPA. There are three parishes which are completely within the SDNPA: Alfriston, Cuckmere Valley, and East Dean and Friston. The South Downs National Park Authority and Wealden District Council have agreed to a joint protocol on neighbourhood planning. This will clarify who is the lead authority in terms of providing advice, support, referenda, and the examination requirements. For guidance please refer to our Map of Wealden District illustrating the Parish and South Downs National Park boundaries (pdf)

Neighbourhood plans or orders must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the adopted local development plans for the local planning authority area. Locally, this means that a neighbourhood plan must accord with the adopted Wealden and SDNPA joint Core Strategy Plan which comprises the long-term spatial vision and strategic objectives for the Wealden District area for the period 2013 to 2027. As all subsequent documents produced as part of the Local Plan will build on the objectives set out in the Core Strategy, Neighbourhood Plans and Orders will also be expected to accord with all future local development documents. 

Neighbourhood planning is about shaping the development of a local area in a positive manner. It is not a tool to stop new development proposals and must reflect local and national policies. Neighbourhood plans and orders may not promote less development than set out in the local plan or undermine its strategic policies. Neighbourhood plans may promote more development than is set out in the local plan, as long as they remain in conformity with national policy.

The costs to communities are likely to vary depending on the complexity and lengths of the documents produced. There are significant costs associated with three key stages of neighbourhood planning: producing a plan or draft order, examination of the draft, and holding a referendum.

The Government estimates that average costs will be between £17,000 and £63,000 to prepare a plan. Evidence emerging from early neighbourhood plan projects suggests costs have been as low as £25,000 and as high as £100,000 again depending on the complexity of the plan. Costs are likely to be higher in large densely populated urban areas than in smaller rural parishes such as those in Wealden.

The Local Planning Authority (Wealden District Council or South Downs National Park Authority (SDNPA)) has to pay for and arrange the examination of the draft plan or order. As the Electoral Authority, Wealden District Council will also be responsible for running and funding any referenda held in the District, whether or not it is the local planning authority. Estimates from Neighbourhood Planning front runners have suggested that direct costs for the funding of a referenda can range from £1.50 to £4.00 per head, depending on the population size and distribution of the designated neighbourhood area. There will also be costs associated with the officer time dedicated to the process which also have to be covered by Wealden District Council.

The 'qualifying body' preparing the plan (Parish Council) is responsible for funding consultation events, commissioning additional evidence which is not already available in the Local Planning Authority's evidence base, printing materials and producing drafts of the plan. In terms of the examination, Wealden District Council would pay for the Inspector's costs and for the running of the examination.

Further information on the types of funding available to support the development of a Neigbourhood Plan can be found at  My Community - Neighbourhood Planning (external).  

All neighbourhood plans will be submitted to an independent examination. Examinations will determine whether the plans meet the necessary criteria and accord with national and local policy (the National Planning Policy Framework and The Wealden District and SDNPA joint Core Strategy). The examiner will be a person with a good understanding of the planning system, such as an academic, a planning officer from a different planning authority or a planning inspector who will be appointed by the relevant planning authority.

A town or parish council is likely to represent itself at examination (potentially with expert assistance as it deems necessary). Wealden District Council's role is to offer support in the process prior to examination. The costs incurred by the examination will be paid for by the local planning authority. The parish council preparing the plan would be responsible for paying for any additional support such as consultants or expert witnesses appearing at examination. However, there is unlikely to be a need for this as the government expects examinations to be 'light touch'. Examinations are only expected to consider whether a plan complies with basic conditions and legal requirements, and aligns with national and local policy. Any significant problems should have been resolved through support offered by Wealden District Council prior to the examination beginning.

Community support is essential before any neighbourhood plan is adopted and used in planning decisions. If the Neighbourhood Plan is found to be satisfactory with modifications at examination then Wealden will arrange for a referendum to take place. At referendum members of the community will have the final say in voting for or against the neighbourhood planning document.

If the majority of those who vote support the document, Wealden District Council and the SDNPA are required to adopt it. If the majority votes against, the District Council and SDNPA would not be able to adopt the document.

Guidance available via the links in our Wealden Guide to Neighbourhood Planning and Questionnaire offers advice on generating community buy-in in the early stages of plan preparation and ensuring that plan makers respond appropriately to comments they receive during the plan-making process.

Both Wealden District Council and SDNPA have produced and commissioned evidence as part of the production process of the Wealden and SDNPA joint Core Strategy and this can be found on the Planning Policy pages of the website.

Almost all the evidence is freely available for use by Wealden town and parish councils who wish to undertake Neighbourhood Planning. There may be copyright issues over maps and images. The Planning Policy team at Wealden will advise if you are unsure.

There is a range of information available on Wealden's neighbourhood planning webpage, including a Wealden specific Guide to Neighbourhood Planning and Questionnaire. We have also reviewed the best available information and guides from Government, other local authorities, and organisations including charities and have provided links to these. This resource is updated as and when new information and guidance becomes available.

Both Wealden District Council and the SDNPA are happy to support communities developing neighbourhood plans. In addition, the Department for Communities and Local Government has funded the following organisations to support neighbourhood planning: