1.1 Prepare a list of local contacts
A high level of community engagement is needed throughout the process. Draw up a list of who to involve and record their contact details so they can be kept informed as the plan progresses.
The list could include: representatives of community groups, representatives of community services/facilities (e.g. school, doctor, children’s centre), elected councillors, businesses, landowners. Throughout the process, starting with the initial event, gather contact details of those interested in the Neighbourhood Plan so they can be updated on progress and invited to comment at each stage.
Local group to create a contact database
Possible help needed: advice on who to engage in a neighbourhood plan; data protection implications
1.2 Get the community on board
The plan depends on local leadership and participation to be successful. Give everyone a chance to get involved from the beginning by:
- Holding an initial event to explain the intentions of developing a neighbourhood plan. Use participatory methods to explore strengths and weaknesses, identify broad issues and recruit community volunteers to a project steering group. The event will also need to establish the boundary of the ‘neighbourhood area’ for which a plan will be prepared.
- Writing to everyone on the contact list inviting them to the event and asking them to state their level of interest in taking part in development of the plan.
Local group to book venue and publicise event(s)
Possible help needed: facilitation of event(s) , support at event(s), technical information about neighbourhood planning
1.3 Establish a steering group
The steering group should feature wide representation from the community and the neighbourhood area to be covered. It must not be dominated by any particular group (including a parish council in a parished area). How this steering group is selected will influence the support the neighbourhood planning process receives from the community. A selection process that is fair, open and inclusive will ensure a greater degree of community support. In an unparished area, the minimum number of members is 21, although there is no such stipulation in a parished area.
The steering group can be established under its own constitution and bank account or in parished areas, under terms of reference and a working agreement with the parish council. Advice is available on different group structures. The group will need to appoint a chairman, secretary and treasurer.
Local group to arrange the first meeting of volunteers and agree the structure of the group
Possible help needed: facilitation of the inaugural meeting to establish the group; advice on constitutions
1.4 Define the ‘neighbourhood area’ and seek approval for a ‘relevant body’ to undertake a plan in that area
The local planning authority is required to approve the ‘neighbourhood area’ for which the plan is being produced and to approve the local group that wants to prepare the plan as a ‘relevant body’. The application process is regulated by the department for Communities and Local Government, and is set out in parts 2 and 3 of the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations.
There are two types of ‘relevant body’ – parish/town councils and neighbourhood forums. In areas where a parish or town council exists, these are the only bodies that can prepare a Neighbourhood Plan. Where a parish or town council does not exist, community members can create a neighbourhood forum. Only one neighbourhood forum is allowed to exist for each neighbourhood to be covered by a Neighbourhood Plan. The neighbourhood forum must have the purpose of furthering the social economic and environmental well-being of the area and seek to have representative membership from across the neighbourhood area. It must have a written constitution and a minimum of 21 members.
In parished areas the ‘neighbourhood area’ is expected to follow parish boundaries. However, a neighbourhood area can cover only part of a parish or can be a combination of parishes. If the proposed neighbourhood area covers more than one parish, then consent must be sought from each of the relevant parish councils. In non-parished areas the ‘neighbourhood area’ would need to be defined. The following factors could be used to help define a neighbourhood area: natural land divisions / features (e.g. rivers, woodland, field boundaries), unnatural land divisions / features (e.g. roads, railway lines, settlement edge), character areas or areas of a particular type or style of development, catchment areas (e.g. school or retail) or local authority ward boundaries.
The application to the local authority must include a map of the area to which the application relates, a statement setting out why the area is appropriate for designation as a neighbourhood, and a statement that the organisation submitting the application is a ‘relevant body’. Once it has approval to proceed with a Neighbourhood Plan, the steering group should establish a ‘main point of contact’ at the local authority. The steering group should also determine the level of support that can be provided by the local authority and by other organisations.
Local group to submit applications for the neighbourhood area and relevant body in accordance with regulations
Possible help needed: advice on boundaries of a neighbourhood area and suitability of local group as a relevant body