Guidance Print Neighbourhood Planning

Designating a neighbourhood area

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What is the process for designating a neighbourhood area?

An application must be made by a parish or town council or a prospective neighbourhood forum (or a community organisation in the case of a Community Right to Build Order) to the local planning authority for a neighbourhood area to be designated (see regulation 5 of the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012 (as amended)). This must include a statement explaining why the proposed neighbourhood area is an appropriate area.

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Should the community consult the local planning authority before making an area application?

The community should consult the local planning authority before making an area application. There should be a positive and constructive dialogue about the planning ambitions of the community and any wider planning considerations that might influence the neighbourhood planning process if the outcome of that process is to be a neighbourhood plan or Order that meets the basic conditions for neighbourhood planning.

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Can a parish council propose a multi-parish neighbourhood area?

A single parish council (as a relevant body) can apply for a multi-parished neighbourhood area to be designated, as long as that multi-parished area includes all or part of that parish council’s administrative area.

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In a multi-parished neighbourhood area when does a town or parish council need to gain the consent of the other town or parish council/s in order to take the lead in producing a neighbourhood plan or Order?

A single parish or town council (as a relevant body) can apply for a multi-parished neighbourhood area to be designated as long as that multi-parished area includes all or part of that parish or town council’s administrative area. But when the parish or town council begins to develop a neighbourhood plan or Order (as a qualifying body) it needs to secure the consents of the other parish councils to undertake neighbourhood planning activities. Gaining this consent is important if the pre-submission publicity and consultation and subsequently the submission to the local planning authority are to be valid.

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Can a group apply for a neighbourhood area to be designated if they are not a designated neighbourhood forum?

A group can apply for a neighbourhood area to be designated even if it is not yet a designated neighbourhood forum. However, in order to be sure that the group is the appropriate body to lead neighbourhood planning in that area, the group must demonstrate that it is capable of becoming the designated neighbourhood forum for the neighbourhood area they are applying to have designated.

The organisation or body should be able to demonstrate that it is capable of meeting the conditions for designation (see section 61F(5) of the of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as applied to Neighbourhood plans by section 38A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004). It may wish to explain what steps it has taken and is taking towards meeting the conditions for designation. For example it may have a draft written constitution with an open membership policy.

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Can a community organisation apply to have a neighbourhood area designated?

A community organisation (or prospective community organisation) can apply for a neighbourhood area to be designated in connection with a Community Right to Build Order proposal (or anticipated proposal). This can include all or part of a parish council’s administrative area, if that area has not already been designated.

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Can a neighbourhood area cross local planning authority administrative boundaries?

 A parish council, prospective neighbourhood forum or community organisation can put forward the neighbourhood area that they consider appropriate for neighbourhood planning; this does not have to follow administrative boundaries. The area application must be made to each of the local planning authorities which has part of its administrative area within the proposed neighbourhood area.

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How should local planning authorities work together when cross boundary neighbourhood planning is proposed?

Where a neighbourhood area is proposed that crosses the administrative boundaries of two or more local planning authorities, the authorities are encouraged to agree a lead authority to handle neighbourhood planning in a particular neighbourhood area. A lead authority approach:

  • simplifies the process for the community
  • minimises the duplication of work by the local planning authorities
  • provides opportunities for authorities to share resources

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What flexibility is there in setting the boundaries of a neighbourhood area?

In a parished area a local planning authority is required to have regard to the desirability of designating the whole of the area of a parish or town council as a neighbourhood area (see 61G(4) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990). Where only a part of a parish council’s area is proposed for designation, it is helpful if the reasons for this are explained in the supporting statement. Equally, town or parish councils may want to work together and propose that the designated neighbourhood area should extend beyond a single town or parish council’s own boundaries.

In areas where there is no parish or town council those wishing to produce a neighbourhood plan or Order must put forward a neighbourhood area using their understanding and knowledge of the geography and character of the neighbourhood.

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What could be considerations when deciding the boundaries of a neighbourhood area?

The following could be considerations when deciding the boundaries of a neighbourhood area:

  • village or settlement boundaries, which could reflect areas of planned expansion
  • the catchment area for walking to local services such as shops, primary schools, doctors’ surgery, parks or other facilities
  • the area where formal or informal networks of community based groups operate
  • the physical appearance or characteristics of the neighbourhood, for example buildings may be of a consistent scale or style
  • whether the area forms all or part of a coherent estate either for businesses or residents
  • whether the area is wholly or predominantly a business area
  • whether infrastructure or physical features define a natural boundary, for example a major road or railway line or waterway
  • the natural setting or features in an area
  • size of the population (living and working) in the area

Electoral ward boundaries can be a useful starting point for discussions on the appropriate size of a neighbourhood area; these have an average population of about 5,500 residents.

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Can those who have submitted an area application change the boundaries once the application has been submitted?

There is no specific provision for withdrawing an area application once it has been submitted. If those making an area application subsequently want to change the neighbourhood area they should inform the local planning authority concerned. Where the local planning authority has not yet made a decision on the area application, it has the option of advising that a new application be submitted with the revised boundary. If the local planning authority accepts the new application it must publish and consult on this new area application for at least six weeks.

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Must a local planning authority designate a neighbourhood area and must this be the area applied for?

A local planning authority must designate a neighbourhood area if it receives a valid application and some or all of the area has not yet been designated (see section 61G(5) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Act as applied to Neighbourhood plans by section 38A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004).

The local planning authority should take into account the relevant body’s statement explaining why the area applied for is considered appropriate to be designated as such.  See section 61G(2) and Schedule 4C(5)(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Act, as amended, for a description of ‘relevant body’.

The local planning authority should aim to designate the area applied for. However, a local planning authority can refuse to designate the area applied for if it considers the area is not appropriate. Where it does so, the local planning authority must give reasons. The authority must use its powers of designation to ensure that some or all of the area applied for forms part of one or more designated neighbourhood areas.

When a neighbourhood area is designated a local planning authority should avoid pre-judging what a qualifying body may subsequently decide to put in its draft neighbourhood plan or Order. It should not make assumptions about the neighbourhood plan or Order that will emerge from developing, testing and consulting on the draft neighbourhood plan or Order when designating a neighbourhood area.

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Can a neighbourhood area include land allocated in the Local Plan as a strategic site?

A neighbourhood area can include land allocated in a Local Plan as a strategic site. Where a proposed neighbourhood area includes such a site, those wishing to produce a neighbourhood plan or Order should discuss with the local planning authority the particular planning context and circumstances that may inform the local planning authority’s decision on the area it will designate.

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Can a local planning authority amend the boundary of a neighbourhood area once it has been designated?

A local planning authority can amend the boundary of a neighbourhood area after it has been designated only if the local planning authority is responding to a new application for a neighbourhood area to be designated.

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Can a local planning authority consult on applications to designate a neighbourhood area and a neighbourhood forum at the same time?

A local planning authority can consult on applications to designate a neighbourhood area and a neighbourhood forum at the same time. However, if the neighbourhood area then designated is not the same as the one originally applied for, a prospective neighbourhood forum may find that it has to revisit its membership, purpose or constitution and submit a revised forum application.

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What should a local planning authority do if it receives more than one neighbourhood forum application for the same area or part of the same area? 

A local planning authority can only designate one neighbourhood forum for a neighbourhood area. Where there are competing forum applications the local planning authority should encourage a dialogue between the applicants in order that they can consider working together as a single neighbourhood forum. The onus is on the prospective neighbourhood forums to be constructive and to reach an agreed solution.

If prospective neighbourhood forums cannot agree to work together one course of action open to a local planning authority is first to designate a neighbourhood area if it has not already done so. This provides certainty about the conditions that any organisation or body will need to meet in order to be designated as the neighbourhood forum for the particular neighbourhood area.

The local planning authority can then assess each neighbourhood forum application against the conditions for designation and evaluate each application in light of the factors set out in section 61F(5) and section 61F(7) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Act as applied to Neighbourhood plans by section 38A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

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