In July 2013 the Freshford and Limpley Stoke community engaged in a widespread and valuable local consultation on the draft Neighbourhood Plan. At the time we hoped that the consultation would be complete by the end of August but we now realise this was over-optimistic. This email is to help you understand where the process has got to and what now needs to happen.
A key stage in the development of our Neighbourhood Plan is the approval by Bath and North East Somerset Council and Wiltshire Council of the Neighbourhood Area Designation. Because our Plan spans two counties we need the approval of both councils. This approval needs to be given before formal local consultation can take place. The Management Group has yet to receive confirmation that the Order of Designation has been ‘signed off’ by the two Councils.
The need to prepare a Sustainability Appraisal (SA) has further added to the delay. This is an assessment of the social, environmental and economic effects of a plan, and ‘reasonable alternatives’ to a plan. It helps to ensure that decisions are made that contribute to achieving sustainable development. The early advice received by the NP Management Group suggested that a SA was not really necessary. (The Department of Communities and Local Government, which provides grants for the development of Neighbourhood Plans, specifically excludes SAs from its grant support.) However B&NES and Wilts have now decided that they do require a full SA, which is a considerable piece of extra work. The SA has to be approved by certain statutory authorities before it can be submitted for local consultation.
These delays are frustrating and have involved the Management Group and others in considerable extra work (though we have managed to obtain a grant to retain a consultant to help us prepare the SA) but every cloud has a silver lining – the resulting Neighbourhood Plan will be a better, more representative document as a result.
The consultation process held in July, although jumping the gun as far as the formal legal process is concerned, has been immensely helpful in clarifying the views of residents. The Neighbourhood Plan needs to reflect the views of the community as a whole. The Management Group has endeavoured to channel the ideas generated from open meetings, the questionnaire and the working groups into a coherent Plan. It was difficult for residents to comment in the abstract but once we had published a draft Plan, people were able to make more specific suggestions – and many of the points made have been pure gold!
The point is also worth making that the Neighbourhood Plan is not a plan necessarily reflecting the wishes of the parish councils of Freshford and Limpley Stoke but is intended to reflect the majority wishes of residents of the two villages. Clearly we would wish the plan to be in a form which has the support of the two parish councils but the key task of the Management Group has been to focus on the expressed wishes of the community. The Management Group is using the delay to revise the draft Plan so that it will benefit from these submissions. When the Neighbourhood Area designation has been approved and the Sustainability Appraisal has been produced and approved as required, we will be publishing this revised draft Plan for a further 6-week consultation by the community.
Residents need to understand, though, that the main reason why this revised draft may still not please everyone is because a Neighbourhood Plan must conform to local Core Strategies (the lead Councils’ planning frameworks) and to the National Planning Policy Framework and should plan positively to support local development albeit within the parameters of Green Belt policy. This means, for instance, that our Neighbourhood Plan cannot overrule planning policy on local ‘brownfield’ sites like Freshford Mill or the Rentokil site in Pipehouse if these fall within the emerging B&NES Core Strategy. Despite this, we firmly believe that our Neighbourhood Plan will genuinely help the community to shape local development to meet our needs and aspirations.
So what of the schedule from here on?
It is outside our control but we are unlikely to be able to publish the revised draft Plan for formal consultation before Christmas – so that will be a treat in store for the New Year! Do please get in touch with any member of the Management Group should you have any questions to ask.