There has been a significant level of local concern regarding the Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) process. The following comments are not aimed at any particular NDP but at the process in general and the role the NDP plays in planning development.
It is my strongest recommendation that anyone who finds themselves taking an interest in the planning system becomes acquainted with the National Planning Policy framework (NPPF), which is a fifty-something page document that sets the strategic, national, policy for planning. All other planning policies must conform to the NPPF. I think of it like a set of Russian Dolls which have to fit one within the other, they are to different scales and with different levels of detail, but they are all, basically, the same shape. So, ‘the largest doll’ is the NPPF, the middle one is the Local Plan (in Herefordshire this is called ‘the Core Strategy’) and the final one is the NDP. The outer two can work without this layer and, in its absence, planning permission will be determined in line with the existing policy. I would also recommend to anyone who is taking an interest in planning that they have a good look at the Core Strategy (particularly policies RA1, RA2, RA3, MT1 and SD4) which is available on line at the council website https://www.herefordshire.gov.uk/downloads/download/123/adopted_core_strategy
All NDPs have to go through a process before they can be used to determine planning permission. A draft NDP is submitted for consultation at ‘regulation 14’, consultation responses are then assessed and the plan may or may not be revised and submitted to ‘regulation 16’ consultation. It is only once the plan has passed ‘regulation 16’ that it can carry limited weight in the decision making process. It is only once the plan has passed regulation 16, examination, referendum and adoption that it becomes a fully functioning part of the planning process. At that point it will sit alongside the other plans; it will have to be in general conformity with those plans and will be a detailed expression of how a community wishes to see development in their area.
So, until an NDP has gone past the regulation 16 stage it carries no weight whatsoever – it may be referenced but it is not part of the policy framework that planners or the planning committee use to determine applications.
In the absence of an adopted (or at the very least post regulation 16) NDP, planning is determined in line with the NPPF and the Core Strategy. The NPPF carries as its central message ‘a presumption in favour of sustainable development’ – in other words, if the development can be said to be ‘sustainable’ then the application should be supported.
One of the ways that Herefordshire Planning Authority interpreted ‘sustainable’ in the context of rural areas was to draw up lists of villages that they felt, due to available services, existing population, location etc. were ‘sustainable’ locations. These villages are therefore covered by policy RA2 and are the locations for proportionate growth – applications for housing either ‘within or adjacent’ to the villages would be considered as having met the criteria for sustainability and the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ would be engaged. This is not to say that all applications will be granted but it does mean that unless there is ‘significant and demonstrable harm’ to outweigh the ‘presumption in favour’ then a refusal would be hard to defend at appeal.
Hope that helps.