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A Beginner's Guide to Neighbourhood Planning

Wednesday 3 December 2014, 16:51
By Nigel Engert, John Smith

Image courtesy of Locality - (illustrator James Munro)
Image courtesy of Locality - (illustrator James Munro)

Wincanton Town Council is currently in the throes of creating a new Neighbourhood Plan allowing the people of Wincanton to have a say in how the town develops between now and 2028. A Neighbourhood Plan is the best mechanism for ensuring that local residents, rather than local developers, get the development they want.

Neighbourhood Plans, which must work in conjunction with Local Plans, enable local residents who are concerned about where the new houses are going to be built, their appearance, the new infrastructure to support them etc., to work co-operatively with their Town or Parish Council to get the best Neighbourhood Plan they can. Note that "the development industry" should be invited to participate in the consultation process.

The importance of the link between South Somerset’s Local Plan and Wincanton’s Parish Neighbourhood Plan

The Local Plan, as required by the Planning Inspector, states that:

The Council will undertake an early review of Local Plan policy relating to housing and employment provision in Wincanton. This will be in accordance with statutory requirements and completed within three years of the date of adoption of the Local Plan.

This means that there will be two Statutory Planning processes running simultaneously, with SSDC responsible for the early review of Local Plan policy relating to housing and employment provision in Wincanton and Wincanton Town Council for the Neighbourhood Plan. As Neighbourhood Planning is a statutory prescribed process with its own Examination in Public, Inspector and so forth, any proposed Neighbourhood Plan will have to be firmly rooted in a robust evidence base. NP is significantly different from earlier community planning exercises which did not require such a degree of research or evidence.

The real point is that both processes will require various studies to be commissioned such as a peripheral landscape study, an ecology study, an employment analysis etc. A lot of these will be common to both, so collaboration between the District and Town Councils will be essential to prevent the waste of resources and possible disagreements over the findings.

Key documents (from national to local):

  • National Planning Policy Framework
    This document, Making the planning system work more efficiently and effectively, introduced a "presumption in favour of sustainable development". An essential read if you want to understand overall National Planning Policy and the role of both Local and Neighbourhood Plans.
  • South Somerset Local Plan
    Provides the overall planning policy for South Somerset until 2026. Trawl through The Local Plan Examination to find out about what is proposed for Wincanton - volume of housing development, direction of development and industrial land. Note the Main Modifications Nov 14 section page 11.
  • Neighbourhood Plans
    This neighbourhood planning document explains how Neighbourhood Plans, which complement Local Plans at town or parish level, are developed by Town or Parish Councils with the active participation of local residents. A Neighbourhood Plan only becomes effective as a subsidiary part of the Local Plan if more than 50% of those voting in a referendum on it are in favour of it. Once adopted, it becomes a mandatory part of local planning policy.

    See also this document for a detailed description of the key stages involved in the Neighbourhood Planning process and information about funding it.

The whole tortuous Local Plan process appears to be drawing to close, so we should have a robust South Somerset Local Plan in place by early 2015. This means that South Somerset is doing better than a number of other local Planning Authorities in the South West.

Wincanton Town Hall and Community Office

To start the ball rolling in Wincanton the Town Council is inviting people to visit their weekly Saturday surgery between now and 20th December to have a chat about the new plan. You can help by filling in a preliminary questionnaire to help them prepare for the next stage of the process. They want to know your thoughts on such matters as:

  • Do you think that Wincanton should be self-sustaining, or accept that it is a dormitory town?
  • Do you want to see the town grow, or remain static?
  • What facilities would you like to see developed?

    Suggestions so far include:
    A new primary school
    Tertiary level schooling (post 16)
    Better transport links – to where?
    Medical treatment, notably an A&E.
  • Do you have a view on the need for free car parking, given that it costs the Town Council money to support this.
  • Do you have a view on the appearance of the town, and how it is/has evolved?

This new neighbourhood plan, when complete, will provide our current and future Councils with a workshop manual to be used as a guide to measure progress.

The answers to the questions above are just the beginning. They will help the Council create a full questionnaire that will be sent to everyone in town. Those answers will contribute to the final plan. This is a great opportunity for the people of Wincanton to have a positive input in the town’s future.

So visit one of the weekly surgeries on any Saturday up to 20th December. The Town Council Surgeries will recommence in the New Year on Saturday 10th January and be held monthly on the first Saturday of each month thereafter.


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