Neighbourhood Plans (Standing Item) (Agenda item 7)
Following an enquiry, Members were informed that the Neighbourhood Plan Officer post was now being advertised.
The Strategic Planning Manager provided the Group with an update on the progress of Neighbourhood Plans for Swanton Morley and Attleborough.
Meetings had been had with Swanton Morley Parish Council and their Neighbourhood Plan area had been confirmed on 6 July 2015.
The Strategic Planning Manager had met with representatives on 15 July 2015 in relation to the Attleborough Neighbourhood Plan where draft initiatives had been discussed. Further details were expected.
The Planning Policy Team Leader provided an update on progress around Mattishall’s Neighbourhood Plan. Mattishall had indicated that they wished to undertake the strategic allocation of sites as part of their Neighbourhood Plan. A methodology approach had been discussed and the Planning Policy Team who would be supporting them with their initial site assessment work. This approach would allow the community to have a direct say but in return a Memorandum of Agreement would have to be agreed to support that approach so as to reduce any potential soundness issues that could occur with the Local Plan if this process was not carried out in a timely and objective manner by the Community Group.
Councillor Borrett felt that if such a framework was in place it ought to be promoted. Members were informed that Mattishall was unique, this was a matter of timing as well as community engagement but all had to be on a timeline with the Local Plan.
Mr Atterwill, the Chairman of Swanton Morley Parish Council advised that Swanton Morley was intending on allocating sites, a consultant had just recently been appointed to assist them with their Neighbourhood Plan which all took time. Mr Atterwill requested information on the SHLAA 2015 updates and housing target information and was informed that a housing target had not been set as yet and that work was continuing on the SHLAA 2015 update.
Councillor Chapman-Allen asked what teeth a Neighbourhood Plan would have to protect an area from development taking place once the Local Plan had been approved. The Planning Policy Team Leader explained that the Council had to be realistic with the whole plan process as it still had to set a strategic target for growth. Protecting areas was very difficult as the National Planning Policy Framework was all about positive growth. Neighbourhood Plans needed to align with the Local Plan and could sit aside the Plan to be used in consideration when applications were determined and there was nothing to prevent Neighbourhood Plans identifying more sites. This in itself could, through providing choice and flexibility, help to protect other areas from development. It would; however, depend on how the Neighbourhood Plan had been worded. The Planning Committee would also have some weight in its interpretation and weight given to the Neighbourhood Plan.
Councillor Carter felt that what was needed was a concrete idea which could influence decisions going forward. The Chairman advised that any parish considering putting a Neighbourhood Plan forward had to inform the Council.
Councillor Joel mentioned the excellent presentation on Neighbourhood Plans that a number of Members had attended provided by NALC, and the Broadland District Council website that seemed to be well ahead on Neighbourhood Plans. He asked the Planning Policy Team if parishes knew how many houses Breckland Council wanted in their villages.
Members were reminded that it was the statutory duty of the Council to set the housing target for the District and that was yet to be determined due to the delay in the emerging joint evidence study. Also, the responsibility for the strategic distribution fell to the strategic Local Plan. One of the tests of soundness would be to demonstrate how the housing requirement would be met in full over the Plan period. The approach that the Local Plan would be built upon had been reported in section 9 of the agenda pack. Going forward the housing target would be subject to consultation.
The Strategic Planning Manager explained that the sites selection was a little like the ‘chicken and the egg’ to reach a beauty parade of sites that would go forward into the Local Plan and the community would be able to comment on sites put forward. Breckland Council had to work as closely as possible with those communities preparing Neighbourhood Plans and share the emerging evidence and all would have the opportunity to get involved with the process later in the year. There was an urgent need to press on with the Local Plan which would be submitted and examined and hopefully adopted by the end of next year.
Councillor Borrett stated that if the Council knew which villages were preparing Neighbourhood Plans should they not be informed of this impending deadline. The Strategic Planning Manager stated that some Neighbourhood Plans were in the very early stages and some parishes had a very clear idea of what they wanted to do, parishes could certainly be contacted informing them of the timetable if Members so wished. The Planning Policy Team Leader advised that the Team was already working with all Neighbourhood Plans but it was a two way dialogue and the same advice would be given to all.
Councillor Borrett still felt that the Mattishall process should be explained to all parishes.
Councillor Bambridge said that he knew of some areas that were coming through the planning system that should not be built on and felt that the Council was trapped in this land supply problem. Members were assured that all sites would be assessed. There were many criteria and a judgement would be made on these. The Council would end up with a list of preferred options. Councillor Bambridge felt that the Council should be on the forefront on this and should start stating that there were areas of Breckland that could not be developed and felt that some new vision should be prepared to protect this area where we all live. The Planning Policy Team Leader stated that the vision formed part of item 9 on the agenda for this meeting. He reminded Members that the emerging Spatial Strategy had been discussed at this Group. There was a distinct hierarchy for growth and this was a way of directing growth of where it should be going and Service Centres were being increased to enable that growth. Environmental designations were part of the site assessment process. Councillor Bambridge mentioned the jobs that were available under a mile away from the border and therefore felt that the Planning Policy Team should be looking at communities where there were employment opportunities.
Councillor Duigan pointed out that no village could veto development and on the subject of site specifics, he suggested that all who were planning to put forward a Neighbourhood Plan or considering a Neighbourhood Plan should liaise with Breckland Council from the start as well as talking to the Planners.
Mr Atterwill had heard the timeline mentioned for parishes to submit sites and had grave concerns about this being met. He urged the Planning Policy Team to provide further information on how many houses was planned for Swanton Morley and what pieces of land had been put forward in the parish thus far.
The Chairman suggested that the Planning Policy Team Leader and the Strategic Planning Manager should have further discussion on the site specifics of Swanton Morley’s Neighbourhood Plan with Mr Atterwill outside of this meeting. Councillor Borrett disagreed and felt that this information should be communicated to all.
It was requested that the indented time line for the Local Plan should be communicated to communities.
The Planning Policy Team Leader stated that all information would be published accordingly once complete. The timeline included the committee process and that was where the two month timeframe stemmed from.
Councillor Borrett felt that the villages producing their own site specifics did not, in his opinion, fit into the programme. Members were informed that the Neighbourhood Plan needed to add value to the Local Plan and build upon the strategic policies to the benefit of the local communities and their aspirations. The Planning Policy Team would work the best it could with the communities when they came forward.
Referring to the site specifics, Members were informed that the consultation would be conducted in the normal way. If a Neighbourhood Plan Group subsequently came forward; however, and there was an opportunity to work closely with the emerging Local Plan, this would be brought to the attention of the local Plan Working Group who would have to give due consideration to the approach taking into account the timeline of the Local Plan.
The Strategic Planning Manager reminded Members that the existing Strategic Housing land Availability Assessment was already on the website and the next one would be reported to the Group very soon. The next consultation would include sites. There would therefore be a further opportunity for communities to suggest alternative sites and through neighbourhood plans to seek to allocate additional sites if they so wished. This would be a moving feast between now and the next meeting.
The Chairman reiterated that everyone must be kept informed. It was agreed that all active Neighbourhood Plan Groups would be kept up to date as well as Members.