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Neighbourhood Plans and Local Authority Powers to Amend Them

Neighbourhood plans put power into the hands of local people but are not always popular with developers. That was certainly so in one case concerning a proposal to build 26 new homes on farmland that once formed part of the Green Belt.

FieldThe 4.5-hectare site had been removed from the Green Belt by the local planning authority (LPA) and placed within a special area of search, indicating that it was likely to be developed for housing in due course. The local parish council, however, wanted its Green Belt status restored and its preservation as open space.

The parish council sponsored a neighbourhood plan which, as originally drafted, contained a specific policy stating that the site should be protected from development until its longer term allocation had been reviewed. An independent examiner later recommended that that policy should be deleted, on the basis that it was no more than a repetition of an existing planning policy, and that was done before the neighbourhood plan was put to a local referendum.

However, the LPA took the step of modifying the plan by appending a note which commented on the site’s elevated position and the visual impact that its development could cause. The note also pointed out the steep vehicular access to the site and its distance from a bus stop. A developer that had an interest in the site argued that the LPA had exceeded its powers by modifying the neighbourhood plan in a manner that had not been recommended by the examiner. Its challenge was, however, rejected by the High Court.

In dismissing the developer’s challenge to that ruling, the Court of Appeal noted that it was important not to take too narrow a view of the LPA’s powers to modify the neighbourhood plan before it went to referendum. The LPA had not gone beyond the broad ambit of its discretion to make amendments for the purpose of correcting errors.

In removing the relevant policy from the plan, the LPA had been faithful to the examiner's recommendation and the note that it added was not at odds with his conclusions. The LPA's reasons for doing so were succinct, but also clear and adequate. The Court also noted that the LPA had been under no statutory duty to consult the developer, nor did the latter have any legitimate expectation that it would be so consulted before the amendment was made.



 
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