John Howell MP attended the Henley Town Council Neighbourhood Plan Committee meeting last week to discuss reviewing and updating the Joint Henley and Harpsden Neighbourhood Plan which was adopted in April 2016 after a public referendum.
The discussion focused on the question of the practical need to update or review the Neighbourhood Plan to ensure the plan remained up-to-date and robust. John said, “It is important to bear in mind that a Neighbourhood Plan does not give exclusive planning rights to the town or village. It is a partnership process with the South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC). A Neighbourhood Plan becomes part of the SODC Local Plan as a separate policy and receives its legal status from this. Planning applications should fully take Neighbourhood Plans into account and given them full weight as a policy regarding that location. But this can be subject to other material considerations such as appeals and other cases.”
The revised plan will need to take into account the emerging SODC Local Plan 2033 which has allocated another 350 homes for Henley. A Neighbourhood Plan can though allocate additional or alternative sites to those in a Local Plan where this is supported by evidence to demonstrate the need above what has been identified or discuss with the local planning authority why it considers the site allocations no longer appropriate.
Will there need to be another referendum? Not necessarily. That will depend on whether the changes affect the nature of the plan and this will be the decision for the independent examiner. If the original plan primarily directs growth, for example through allocating sites for development, then allocating new sites for development would be unlikely to change the nature of the plan and no referendum would likely be required.
John advised, “If SODC decides not to follow an examiner’s recommendation or to make modifications that the examiner has not recommended, the town can appeal to the Secretary of State to intervene. This will be judged on the basis of 3 factors:
- where the local planning authority has failed to take a decision to send a plan or Order proposal to referendum within 5 weeks of receipt of the examiner’s report, or within 5 weeks of the end of the period for representations;
- where the authority does not follow all of the examiner’s recommendations; or
- where the authority modifies the plan or Order in a way that was not recommended by the examiner (except where the modification is to ensure compatibility with EU or human rights obligations or to correct an error).”
Members discussed the strategic policies with which the Neighbourhood Plan has to conform e.g. transport, environment, employment, retail etc. and should engage with infrastructure providers (e.g. utility companies, transport infrastructure providers and local health commissioners) in this process, advised by the local planning authority.
Should there be a conflict between a policy in a neighbourhood plan and a policy in a Local Plan, section 38(5) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires that the conflict must be resolved in favour of the policy which is contained in the last document to become part of the development plan.
Chair of the Henley Town Council Neighbourhood Plan Committee, Councillor Ken Arlett said, “At the end of the meeting, the Neighbourhood Plan Committee have been divided into 7 different groups to gather information on the town’s infrastructure. Once this information in known we can draw up much more ‘robust’ policies to stop extra planning applications being approved once the review is complete.”