Thursday 6 May 2021

Impacts of Neighbourhood Planning in England - a report by Reading University - 2020

BelperStuff has been re-activated because of the odd comments that are being posted on Belper social media that are trying to trash the Neighbourhood Plan for Belper (NP4B) which is subject to a referendum being held on May 6th 2021. Sadly this report has only just come to the attention of this blog but I post here, at the eleventh hour in an attempt to dispel opinions that are, in effect, just that .. opinions. What follows is evidence that has been gained by an extensive desk study analysis of 141 plans as well as a cohort assessment of 865 completed neighbourhood plans; 143 questionnaires targeted at active neighbourhoods and Local Planning Authorities. Nine case study areas across England involving 20 neighbourhood plans were studied and three targeted discussions with developers, non-completing groups and active neighbourhood planning consultants

This is a report commissioned by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government which has been undertaken by the University of Reading. The link to the document is below:

To best describe the scope of the task set the University here is an extract from the report:

1.2 Research Brief 

The research was set out by MHCLG to cover a series of core Research Objectives (ROs). These concerned: 

  • Development Impacts and Housing Supply 
  • Other Development Impacts (including Quality of Development) 
  • Decision-Making and Investment 
  • Community Attitudes and Engagement 
  • Influence of Geography 
  • Success Factors and Common Barriers
The key findings are to be found in the Executive Summary which is extracted below:

The key findings are set out in precis and organised here by the six Research Objectives: 

1. Development Impacts and Housing Supply Neighbourhood planning’s contribution to housing supply can be significant. Neighbourhood plans which are allocating housing sites are providing sites for an average additional to local plan allocation 39 units per neighbourhood plan. The study found 18,000 units above LP allocations in 135 plans. However communities seeking to make housing allocations did encounter added burdens, both technical and political compared to creating a non-allocating NP. Scaling-up production of NPs could make a significant contribution to housing supply – particularly if cooperation between neighbourhoods and LPAs are strengthened further. There was no evidence found that NPs displace development from other parts of the local authority area. 

2. Other Development Impacts (including Quality of Development) Neighbourhood plans have helped improve design policy and refined local priorities e.g. housing for specific societal groups. There is further potential within the neighbourhood planning process to reflect both community needs and tie with more strategic concerns coming from above. Closer partnership working between communities and planning professionals (i.e. local government planners and planning consultants) can help address this. Better recognition and more targeted support for the effective integration of placemaking matters that go beyond pure land use planning policy would also benefit neighbourhoods and other interested parties (e.g. local government, third sector, funders). 

3. Decision-Making and Investment Neighbourhood plans have improved local engagement with local planning authorities, and are important vehicles for place-making beyond land use planning. Other initiatives have included the establishment of Community Interest Companies and Community Land Trusts. Impacts of Neighbourhood Planning Page 4 of 44 This highlights that communities lack a formal arena for place-making projects unrelated to planning policy, and may help explain why a large number of communities have not completed land use plans (NDPs). In terms of how the Plans are used in practice, the evidence from LPAs and appeals indicates NPs do have an influential role in decisions, reflecting their legal status, and as a minimum they provide nuance to decisions. Over half of LPA respondents see NDPs as having a ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ degree of influence on decision-making. Moreover, responses suggest the vast majority of decisions that go to appeal go in favour of the relevant NDP. However, their impact will vary according to the circumstances and Plan policies. We found no evidence that NPs were ignored but some communities felt Plans were not always recognised as clearly as they would wish. This indicates that LPAs could better communicate how neighbourhood plans have been taken into account and highlights the value of clear and specific policies that have been road-tested by development management officers. MHCLG could share best practice to support LPAs in their role in developing and implementing NDP policies. 

4. Community Attitudes and Engagement Community attitudes to development may become more positive as a result of the NP experience, and the acceptability of development is supported by a large proportion of Plans with policies on design and affordable housing. Some neighbourhoods reported better relations with LPAs and a more positive attitude to development, but in other cases poor relations with some LPAs and lack of an up-to-date Local Plan also presented a barrier. There was no clear evidence that there is faster delivery of sites, though where sites are chosen in the NDP they are clearly more accepted by the community, which can reduce delays associated with legal challenges or other forms of opposition. Often allocation of sites is a motivator as it allows greater protection of other locally important spaces. It is therefore important to maintain protection for neighbourhood plans from speculative development. 

5. Influence of Geography While there has been strong take-up of neighbourhood planning since 2011, there are many neighbourhoods who have not used this community right. The total number of communities who have started or completed neighbourhood planning went beyond 2,600 in Autumn 2019, but the take-up rates have slowed considerably. The main reasons for this are associated to known time, processual and technical burdens, relationship with local plan progress, and levels of enthusiasm in some local planning authorities. This indicates that for some neighbourhoods an uptodate Local Plan lessens their concern to finalise a NDP. There is a noticeably low take-up in urban areas, and in northern regions. It is notable that all LPAs with no activity are urban. There are a range of reasons for this disparity and if government wish to continue to support the initiative there will need to be affirmative action taken to sustain and expand neighbourhood planning activity. Government are missing an opportunity to realise benefits in urban and deprived areas and assist in their levelling-up agenda. As such Government should consider either increasing support to reflect additional Impacts of Neighbourhood Planning Page 5 of 44 challenges faced by these communities, or ensure community engagement/involvement, in other less burdensome ways. 

6. Success Factors and Common Barriers While NP is a manageable process for most parished communities and a NDP is an achievable goal, support from consultants and positive relationships with LPA are important to helping with progress. MHCLG could do more to identify and share best practice for LPAs, particularly around site identification. The process remains burdensome for community volunteers with the time taken to reach completion around three years (and for many it can take longer). NDPs take longer when Local Plans are in progress, particularly where a new Local Plan is initiated after NDP work has started. This can add a further 6-10 months to NDP production on average. Better alignment with LPAs and Local Plans may assist here. Local Planning Authority (LPA) support overall is varied, with examples of strong support but also ambivalence in other areas. A common criticism was duplication of policies and MHCLG could find ways of better aligning / integrating Local Plans and NP processes – through clearer ongoing communications between LPAs and neighbourhood planning groups.

The full report gives a much better understanding of the important part that Neighbourhood Plans can play in reflecting the wishes of the local community and translating them into an effective planning document.