Neighbourhood Plans (Standing Item) (Agenda item 7)
To receive an update.
The Council had received another Neighbourhood Plan from Mattishall Parish Council which would be presented to the Cabinet meeting in March 2015. Councillor Kiddle-Morris felt that some form of delegated power should be put in place to meet the designated timeframe under the new regulations.
The Planning Policy Team Leader advised that Kenninghall’s Neighbourhood Plan had recently been designated.
Attleborough Town Council had submitted a draft timeline for its Neighbourhood Plan. Phil Mileham, the Deputy Planning Manager would be looking into this as the timeline was considered to be rather ambitious.
The interest in Neighbourhood Planning had increased since the publication of the Issues and Options document. Norfolk Association of Local Councils (NALC) had organised a Neighbourhood Plan event which had been planned for 27 March 2015 and a representative from the DCLG had been invited to attend. The event was being held at Elizabeth House, Dereham from 10am until 4pm. This event had also been advertised by NALC and emails from them had been sent out to all Town & Parish Councils. The same email would be sent to Breckland Council Members for information. Martin Pendlebury, the Director of Planning & Business Manager felt that this was a golden opportunity for all Town & Parish Councils to gain more understanding of the process and funding streams. Councillor Joel pointed out that Broadland District Council had been very pro-active around its Neighbourhood Plans and believed that Breckland should be doing the same. Councillor Duigan stated that if every village produced a Neighbourhood Plan it was not just about the process and funding it should also be about having local expertise. He also mentioned the Elections in May where such matters as Neighbourhood Plans could change depending on which Party was elected. The Planning & Business Manager stated that bringing forward a whole raft of Neighbourhood Plans was an issue and was something that the Council should consider. There were other options, such as the approach Shipdham was taking which was piggybacking off the work already done on the Local Plan that could be appropriate for some communities. Councillor Cowen felt that the clock should be wound back slightly to ascertain why Neighbourhood Plans were brought in to start with. In rural areas, tightly knit communities did not exist, nor did they exist in market towns. Breckland’s Local Plan was meant to be inclusive and in his opinion, Planners had struggled to engage with communities and it was the Local Plan process that the Council should be focusing on as well as trying to engage with local communities. The Council needed to work smarter on how it could make the Local Plan work for its communities and parishes and town councils should be encouraged to take a much more active role in the Local Plan process so that we as a Council could then deliver what was really needed. Councillor Turner then explained the approach being taken by Shipdham Parish Council. Shipdham had ruled out the value of a Neighbourhood Plan and was going down the route of a community led plan, called ‘Shaping Shipdham, the Future’. All residents could contribute and a village appraisal survey was being put together with all questions being asked having an outcome. A funding contribution of £4.5k had been granted for this work and further funding streams could be applied for. All information gathered would be included in an Action Plan which the Parish Council would oversee. Councillor Turner felt that all the evidence gathered carried more weight than a Neighbourhood Plan as there had been a huge surge of interest from the residents for this. The Director of Planning & Business Manager said that the beauty of this approach was that all information could be fed into Breckland’s Local Plan process and was a very good way of being fleet of foot. Members were informed that the survey was being sent out to all residents and was also available on line. Councillor North pointed out that the Attleborough Neighbourhood Plan Working Group was doing something similar but towns were very different to villages as it was difficult to get all involved. She felt that any work in relation to such matters should be carried out in a more cohesive manner. The Chairman said that the majority of Neighbourhood Plans had come from villages. Councillor Darby advised that Swaffham had put together its Plan about 10 years ago and felt that such Plans should provide more power to get the bigger things done. Councillor Kiddle-Morris explained that there were other things that communities could consider such as Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build and pointed out that Neighbourhood Plans must have regard to certain policies and should not be entered into lightly. Councillor Joel stated that Old Buckenham was now talking about a Neighbourhood Plan and Iain Withington, the Planning Policy Team Leader had been invited to attend a parish meeting in March. He mentioned the excellent presentation that Broadland District Council had provided at Carrow Road in Norwich and felt that his parish meeting should be advertised accordingly.
Mr Atterwill was in attendance to put forward his observations as a Parish Councillor. He stated that the residents of Swanton Morley wanted to see the village grow but on its own terms and in a partnership approach. He mentioned the development of 52 dwellings that had been agreed at Planning Committee in June 2014 approving the affordable housing and open space. Everyone had gone away happy with the outcome of the decision; however, nearly a year later there were still on-going issues with the S106 Agreement and pointed out that the open space had been transferred to Breckland Council and the affordable housing stipulation of it being for Swanton Morley residents only had not come to fruition and had since changed. He felt that Breckland Council should take note of what local people wanted and this was the reason why so many villages were jumping on the Neighbourhood Plan bandwagon. If Breckland Council wanted help with its Local Plan then it should not go back on what had previously been agreed at a Planning meeting. He also mentioned the gobbledygook and asked Officers to convey planning in plain English and be very clear in what they were trying to do. The Director of Planning & Business Manager explained that the S106 Agreement around that development had raised a number of technical issues which were still being considered. As far as the open space was concerned, it was general practice to transfer the open space to the Council then the Council had the opportunity to release the land back to the Parish Council. In relation to the affordable housing element there were issues around the wording, it should have stated that the local connection would be for residents of Breckland not just for Swanton Morley as the Housing Team had not been able to identify the local justification need. In response to the latter concern, it was noted that the DCLG had produced a plain English guide which the public might find helpful.
It was agreed that the plain English Guide would be sent out to all Members and Parish Councils together with the link to Planning Advisory website in relation to the funding available for Neighbourhood Plans.
Councillor Duigan felt that many of the definitions were very difficult for people to understand particularly on affordable housing matters and S106 Agreements.
Councillor Kiddle-Morris was keen for Swanton Morley to expand but it needed to decide what mix of housing it needed in the Neighbourhood Plan. He assured Mr Atterwill that Breckland Council did not want to take on any further open space and would accordingly be transferred back to the Parish Council to maintain. There were always problems with affordable housing but some matters were beyond the Council’s control. Mr Atterwill mentioned the serious breakdown in communication in relation to the S106 Agreement not being signed off. He also mentioned that it was the Parish Council’s intention that the affordable housing should go to those on already on the housing waiting list.
Councillor Cowen was disappointed to hear that Members at a Planning meeting had agreed to something which the officers then turned the decision around and felt that such matters should have been dealt with at the Planning Committee meeting. He also felt that the rules of S106 Agreements should be drafted and understood prior to the Committee meeting so that a justified decision could be made and thought there was already a policy in place that stated that S106 Agreements should be in place before a decision could be determined. The Director of Planning & Business Manager explained that under delegated powers there had to be a S106 Agreement in place before a decision could be made but in his experience such Agreements were not worked up prior to the Planning Committee.
The Chairman felt that the alternative to Neighbourhood Plans should be promoted. It was agreed that such matters would be discussed at a future meeting.