What is the Neighbourhood Plan and where are we now?
The Neighbourhood Plan is all about the Parish of Hurst and the people who live and work in the Parish. For those who are new to the village and as a reminder to those who can’t quite remember what the process is or are unsure of how the Neighbourhood Plan differs from the Borough’s Local Plan:
- A neighbourhood plan provides the opportunity for communities to set out a positive vision for how they want their community to develop over the next 10, 15 or 20 years in ways that meet identified local need and make sense for local people. They can put in place planning policies that will help deliver that vision or grant planning permission for the development they want to see.
- They are able to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those new buildings should look like, what infrastructure should be provided, and grant planning permission for the new buildings they want to see go ahead.
- A neighbourhood plan forms part of the development plan and sits alongside the local plan prepared by the local planning authority. Decisions on planning applications will be made using both the local plan and the neighbourhood plan, and any other material considerations.
- A neighbourhood plan attains the same legal status as a local plan (and other documents that form part of the statutory development plan) once it has been approved at a referendum.
It isn’t all about development though – as part of the process we have to audit our parish and take a good look at what we like or dislike about our parish, what needs protection, preserving and enhancing; this includes the community, as well as the landscape and character of Hurst which we currently enjoy.
The neighbourhood plan must be produced rigorously, because if we don’t conform to the regulations, then it won’t be passed by the examiner. The working group of the neighbourhood plan take this very seriously and are mindful that the process, no matter how long it takes, must involve consultation and that the opinion of the community is paramount.
What has been done so far?
The working group was formed in 2017 and the application for the Designation of a Neighbourhood Plan Area (the entire Parish), was given the go ahead in early 2018. The NP working group, whilst an independent group, is run under the auspices of the Parish Council with various other volunteers in the village; including those involved in community projects and others who are completely independent but have the necessary skills to help with the process of the Neighbourhood Plan.
In addition to the working group, we have also hired an independent professional planning consultant to guide us and help us with policy as and when we need it.
Many people in our community have already had their say when we held consultations during 2018; this included individual consultations for the 3 wards, stands at the Hurst Show and the Horticultural Show and we have also given landowners and businesses opportunities to have their say. Further consultation will continue throughout the process.
As part of the audit and to give some idea of what the village has – research and background reports are currently being prepared. This is required as evidence for the examiner to justify any policies created within the final neighbourhood plan.
For example, we need to know all about our historic and heritage assets, community assets, our biodiversity including registered wildlife sites, SSSI’s, TPO’s etc and the character of our landscape – how much is agricultural, what grades the fields are, flood zones and how much of our parish is water, and how much is attributed for leisure? Also, what leisure and community facilities do we have – the various group activities held within the parish, including Dinton Pastures; How many Traveller and Gypsy sites we have and their locations; what development has taken place in the last 20 to 25 years? Analyse Census information over the last 20 or so years, regarding the population, the demographic and looking into the prediction of future households and housing needs.
All of this is being done in the background which takes time and effort, checking and double checking to ensure the information is correct at the time and is in tune with that provided by the Borough.
We are now working towards the next stage of consultation, which is designing a questionnaire which will be delivered to each and every household in the parish – this is drawn up using the information we have gathered so far from consultations and from the evidence gathered from the audit.
This has taken longer than we hoped, but due to the turbulence and turmoil at WBC over the last year and their decision to launch the ‘Enough is Enough’ housing campaign ending on 23rd July, 2019 the NP working group have felt it prudent to pause with distributing the questionnaire rather than add confusion to the process.
Where are we now and what happens next?
We are hoping to send the questionnaire out very soon, in the next month or so. This will be delivered to each household and it can either be answered online or returned by post.
Once the questionnaire has been completed, we will then analyse the responses.
At the same time, as matter of due process to ensure any proposals and policies meet the statutory ‘Basic Conditions’ and are robust enough for the Examiner, we must liaise and negotiate with Wokingham BC and they must consult with the Hurst Neighbourhood Plan with regard to all proposed policies and any future development plans that will affect the parish.
A draft plan will be drawn up and before submitting this to Wokingham Borough Council this has to be publicised in the neighbourhood area and once again the community will have the opportunity to comment and make representations (for a minimum of 6 weeks).
After this period of consultation, the plan will then be reconsidered and if necessary, redrafted and submitted to WBC.
If we have done our job properly, WBC should be happy with the draft and the proposed plan will be submitted for examination. It is at this point, the Neighbourhood Plan Working Group may ask for a ‘health check’ by the examiner (who is an independent examiner) prior to formally submitting the plan for examination, to ensure there are no issues which could be remedied prior to submission.
Once the examiner has given the draft plan the go ahead, the plan will go to a referendum and every person living in Hurst who is registered to vote for the local elections will have the opportunity to vote as to whether or not they accept it.
If the majority of those who vote in the referendum are in favour of the draft neighbourhood plan then the neighbourhood plan must be made statutory by the local planning authority within 8 weeks of the referendum.
A neighbourhood plan comes into force as part of the statutory development plan once it has been approved at referendum. An Order must be made by the local authority before it has effect.
As a final note, it has been brought to the Neighbourhood Plan Working Group’s attention there is some confusion between the call for sites for the Borough’s Local Plan (Note: The call for sites for the local plan is now closed) and what sites will be considered for the neighbourhood plan. Those sites already submitted for the local plan can also be considered for the neighbourhood plan, but we have also received submissions from landowners who have not submitted for the local plan but would like to be considered for the neighbourhood plan. If you own land which you think you would like to be considered for the neighbourhood plan, please contact the Clerk at St Nicholas Hurst Parish Council in the first instance.