The neighbourhood planning referendum
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Who is responsible for organising the referendum?
The ‘relevant council’ (see Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended)) must make arrangements for the referendum/s to take place. Relevant councils are:
- district councils;
- London boroughs;
- metropolitan district councils; and
- county councils in any area in England for which there is no district council.
(Unitary authorities are either district councils or county councils that perform the functions of the other type of council as well.)
Where the relevant council for a referendum is not the local planning authority, the two authorities must co-operate as required by regulation 16 of the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendum) Regulations 2012 (as amended).
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What are the rules for the referendum process?
The rules covering all aspects of organising and conducting the polls can be found in the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendum) Regulations 2012 (as amended by the Neighbourhood Planning (Referendum) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 and 2014) and the Neighbourhood Planning (Prescribed Dates) Regulations 2012.
A qualifying body, the local planning authority and the relevant electoral services team should establish an early dialogue as part of any project planning process.
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Who votes in a referendum?
A person is entitled to vote if at the time of the referendum, they meet the eligibility criteria to vote in a local election for the area and if they live in the referendum area.
In a ‘designated business area’ (see section 61H of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Act as amended) both residents and non-domestic rate payers get an opportunity to vote in referendums on whether the neighbourhood plan or Order should come into legal force (see paragraphs 12(4) and 15 of Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended) and Schedules 6 to 8 of the Neighbourhood planning (Referendums) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 (as amended)).
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What happens in a business area if residents and businesses voting in referendums do not agree?
In a designated business area, if a majority of those who have voted in one of the referendums vote in support of making the draft neighbourhood plan or Order and the majority of those who vote in the other referendum do not support the making of the draft plan or Order, the local planning authority must decide whether the neighbourhood plan or Order should be brought into force.
A local planning authority is advised to set out its decision-making criteria in this scenario in advance of the referendum taking place. It may for example, wish to consider criteria related to the level of support the neighbourhood plan or Order proposal received at each referendum, the relative size of the electorate or the characteristics of the neighbourhood area.
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What does a local planning authority do if the majority of those who vote are in favour of a neighbourhood plan or Order coming into force?
If the majority of those who vote in a referendum are in favour of the draft neighbourhood plan or Order (or, where there is also a business referendum, a majority vote in favour of both referendums), then the neighbourhood plan or Order must be made (brought into legal force) by the local planning authority. Local planning authorities should do this promptly following the announcement of the referendum result. Where there is also a business referendum and a majority of those voting, vote in favour of the proposals in only one of the referendums, then the local planning authority may make the neighbourhood plan or Order but is not required to.
There are narrow circumstances where the local planning authority is not required to make the neighbourhood plan or Order. These are where it considers that the making of the neighbourhood plan or Order would breach, or otherwise be incompatible with, any EU or human rights obligations (see section 61E(8) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 Act as amended).