Bishops Lydeard & Cothelstone Parish Council has decided to produce a Neighbourhood Plan. What is it and why?
The Taunton Deane Core Strategy has been adopted by Taunton Deane Borough Council. This document sets out the key framework for development in the Borough, including Bishops Lydeard and Cothelstone. There now follows a process of identifying development land to fulfil the strategic needs set out in the Core Strategy. There are two ways in which this can happen. The first is the path that has traditionally been followed whereby the Local Planning Authority (in our case Taunton Deane) will manage the process of receiving proposals from landowners and developers and selecting preferred options for new development. This is the process that Taunton Deane kickstarted with the recent series of exhibitions. The second option, available since 2012, is for local groups to do this themselves. Bishops Lydeard and Cothelstone Parish Council has decided to do just this, by Producing what is called a Neighbourhood Plan. The Parish Council has formed a Neighbourhood Planning Committee to advise it on the production of the Plan. I have been elected Chair.
The Committee will meet on a regular basis (to be announced) and its meetings will be open to the public. Our job is to examine the Core Strategy and assess the level and type of development that we think is appropriate for the Parish. We cannot use the plan to block all development but we can use it to say what we want and where. This gives us a unique opportunity to shape the development of our neighbourhood.
In addition to the new legislation that has given rise to this opportunity, the Government has also changed the way that public infrastructure associated with development is provided. Previously, legal agreements were used to secure off-site infrastructure, such as highway improvements, school expansions etc. In future, such items will be provided through the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). This is effectively a tax on some forms of new development. The levy will be set and collected by Taunton Deane Borough Council who will spend it in the locality. Taunton Deane is currently consulting on the levy rates but it is expected that the levy in Bishops Lydeard will be set at around £125 per sq m of residential development. On the basis that the average 3-bedroom home is 88 sq m (Source: RIBA) this would yield £11,000 in CIL revenue per house. Crucially, the new rules require that a proportion of the CIL revenue be passed to communities covered by an adopted Neighbourhood Plan to spend on local infrastructure. It is expected that the proportion will be no less than 25%.
HOW THE PLAN IS PRODUCED
Let’s start at the end. The Neighbourhood Plan will be the subject of a referendum amongst local people. Unless more than half of those who vote in the referendum approve of the plan it will not be adopted and will have no weight in the decision making process. It is very clear therefore that the public has a massive role to play in the process. Not that they would want to, but it would be pointless the Parish Council producing a plan that did not have local support as it will not be voted through. Community engagement is therefore very much at the heart of this process.
Now back to the beginning. The Neighbourhood Planning Committee will undertake a data gathering exercise and will be consulting widely with stakeholders to gain a good understanding of the issues, concerns and ideas as well as identifying the aims. A draft plan will be produced, containing policies, proposals and options. Wide consultation will occur followed by the production of a final draft plan. The plan will then be examined by an independent expert for compliance with all relevant legislation and the Taunton Deane Core Strategy. Once it is has been passed, the referendum is held and, if approved by local residents, the plan is adopted and becomes planning policy. Future planning applications will be determined in accordance with the Neighbourhood Plan. It is an opportunity for local residents to take control of the planning process.