The Localism Act gives our Parish Council a major role in neighbourhood planning for our village. This is because central Government thinks that local communities should have a strong voice on land-use matters in their locality. Parish councils have an established role in representing local communities and lots of experience in considering planning issues. Odell Parish Council requested a feasibility study on whether it could produce a neighbourhood plan, then asked the village, through a survey, whether it wanted to have one. Over 50% of households responded and 90% of those responding said they wanted to have one. There are a number of issues that a neighbourhood plan may be able to influence and the community now has the opportunity to engage with the consultation programme. It will be managed by a working group that’s accountable to the Parish Council. It will identify the issues of most concern and how they may be addressed / resolved.
Our project timeline sets out the required stages for the production of the Neighbourhood Plan and how long they’re likely to take. It is a structured process where we have to provide lots of evidence to justify the decisions and policies included in the Plan. A draft Plan could be in place within 18 months. It will then need to be independently reviewed and revised as required. The final stages include a vote by Odell residents on the electoral roll.
Neighbourhood plans are a relatively new type of community plan although they have similarities to what went before, such as parish plans. However, they are different in scope and are designed to operate at a higher level. Because Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan will be part of the Borough’s Council's overall development plan, it must deal will land use and planning issues, such as where any new development is located, how much development should happen, what it should look like and what facilities or amenities that already exist should be protected.
Yes, absolutely – everyone who lives in the village or has a stake in its future is warmly encouraged to get involved and have their say. It will be a plan prepared by the people of Odell for the village. The Parish Council is only the statutory lead. The work on research, consultation, analysis and policy writing needed to produce a successful plan will be provided by a working group that will include Councillors, residents and anyone else who can lend support to the process. The expertise needed to produce the Plan will include bold and clear communications skills, a willingness to work for the benefit of the village as a whole, IT skills, good analytical skills and a commitment to resolve issues, build consensus and to see the project through to completion. Anybody interested in getting involved should contact the Parish Council and make them aware of the amount of time and the skills they have to offer.
The Localism Act places a legal duty on Bedford Borough Council, as our local planning authority to support and advise its parish councils that want to produce a neighbourhood plan. Bedford Borough Council has set out the type of support that will be provided. It includes general guidance on how to make the Plan, contact details for key consultees and advice on how to take the Plan through the statutory stages of the process. We have already had valuable help and advice from the Borough Council in getting Neighbourhood Area designation approved for Odell, in the production of maps such as those used at the launch event and on the relevant process we should follow.
There is no fixed format or cost for a Neighbourhood Plan. It can contain as few as 2 main policy areas or as many as 20. For a small village like Odell, it’s likely that we’ll have a relatively small number of policies. Most of the work to produce Odell’s plan will be done by people from the village on a voluntary basis. Paid-for, expert help will be requested where required. The cost of preparing our Neighbourhood Plan is, therefore, likely to be largely covered by the amount of grant funding offered by the Government. A grant of up to £9,000 is available, plus technical support paid for centrally. If there’s a need for new housing in Odell, then additional funding and support is available for work on site selection and evaluation etc. The two largest costs associated with the process are the arrangement and staging of the independent examination of the plan and the community referendum. These costs will be covered by Bedford Borough Council. It is intended to keep the costs to be covered by the Parish Council to a minimum.
Neighbourhood Plans are a powerful tool for shaping the development and growth of a local area. They don’t just re-state the Borough Council’s plan, but set out the village’s views on the development and use of land in our parish. The Localism Act includes a “basic condition” that Neighbourhood Plans have to be in general conformity with the strategic policies of Bedford’s Local Plan. The most important policies which a Neighbourhood Plan has to conform to are the assessment of required housing. Odell is not required to provide for any new housing in the Local Plan 2030, although we could do so if the village wished. For the first time for a village’s plans, its Neighbourhood Plan becomes a formal part of the planning system. It forms part of the Local Development Plan and sits alongside the Local Plan prepared by Bedford Borough. Planning applications will need to be decided against both the Local Plan, the Neighbourhood Plan and any other material considerations.
The Government wants local authorities to get up-to-date local plans in place as soon as possible. Where an up-to-date Local Plan is not yet in place, the villages and the Bedford Borough should work together to produce complementary neighbourhood and local plans. There will be good support from Bedford Borough Council as it finalises its Local Plan 2030.
Yes, it’s not necessary for the local planning authority to have an approved Local Plan in place before a village prepares its Neighbourhood Plan. The Parish Council and Bedford Borough Council will work together in developing both the Local Plan and Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan. Our Neighbourhood Plan could be produced and approved even if the Borough Council’s next plan – the Local Plan 2035 - is not finalised, provided that it is in general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan 2030 which is in the final stages of being completed. However, it would make sense to be in step with any emerging new Local Plan 2035 in case the strategic policy framework changes, which could make a Neighbourhood Plan out of date.
The examination of Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan can be carried out by anyone with appropriate qualifications and skills who meets certain requirements set out in the Localism Act and is acceptable to both the Bedford Borough Council and Odell Parish Council. This could be a planning consultant or other planning professional, an employee of another local authority or a planning inspector. They will be appointed by Bedford Borough Council, but with the appointment agreed by the Parish Council. It is expected that the examination of Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan will be light touch. It will ensure that the Plan has been prepared in accordance with the law and is consistent with national policy and in general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan.
Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan only gets ‘made’ (i.e. is approved and comes into force) if more than 50% of those members of the village who vote at the referendum endorse it. It is important that the whole community has the opportunity to be involved in Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan, which may have significant effects on the shape of the village in the future. A referendum is an important way of doing this and provides democratic legitimacy for the content of the Plan. The Parish Council will not have to run the neighbourhood planning referendum – this will be the responsibility of Bedford Borough which runs elections in the neighbourhood area.
Once Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan has had a successful examination and has been approved by a majority of those voting on it in a local referendum, it must be approved by the local authority. It will then sit alongside their Local Plan as a part of the statutory development plan for the Borough.
There will be two consultation periods after the Plan has been produced that provide opportunities for individuals and organisations to put forward their views. The ‘Regulation 14’ consultation lasts for at least 6 weeks and is run by the village’s working group. It may make final changes in response to any representations made. The plan is then submitted to the Borough. Under Regulation 16, it is required to publicise the Plan for 6 weeks when there is a further opportunity for representations to be made. These will be considered by the independent Examiner during their examination of the Plan. Further changes may be required in response to the Examiner’s report. Once it has successfully passed this stage it is then put to a referendum, and if more than 50% of those voting are in favour, the Neighbourhood Plan is brought into force. Once a Neighbourhood Plan is in force, any new planning application will follow the usual planning processes and individuals can make specific representation to the local planning authority. There is a statutory requirement for a decision on each planning application to take into account the Borough’s Local Plan, Odell’s Neighbourhood Plan and any other material considerations.
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