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Expect more neighbourhood plan challenges in 2017, says expert, as parish council plan fails examination

Out-Law News | 05 Jan 2017 | 4:07 pm | 1 min. read

An increasing number of neighbourhood plans will fail the independent examination stage in 2017, while those that do proceed to referendum could face additional legal challenges, an expert has predicted.

Benjamin Mansell of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, was commenting as Stafford Borough Council prepared to vote on a report by independent examiner Nigel McGurk, in which he concluded that Sandon and Burston Parish Council's proposed neighbourhood plan did not "meet the basic conditions" to be voted on by the local community.

In his report, a copy of which has been seen by Out-Law.com, McGurk said that public consultation around the proposed plan had not been "robust".

"There is evidence to demonstrate that the Neighbourhood Plan fails to reflect the views of local people, despite efforts on behalf of local residents to have a direct and meaningful involvement in the plan-making process," he said in the report.

McGurk also raised specific concerns with the contents of the report, including that listed projects were "vague and general" and that the policies were "not in general conformity with the adopted development plan for the area".

He concluded that only a local green space policy could be allowed to stand in the Neighbourhood Plan.

"Having regard to the vision and introductory sections of the Neighbourhood Plan, as well as its evidence base, it may be unlikely that a Neighbourhood Plan comprising just a Local Green Space Policy would meet local aims and aspirations," he said.

Mansell said that the number of draft neighbourhood plans that had failed to pass examination by an independent examiner had "continued to grow" in recent months.

"This is likely to be evidence of the greater numbers coming forward but may also be indicative of higher levels of scrutiny during examination," he said. "Examiners will also be increasingly wary of legal challenge, with a number of neighbourhood plans being brought before the courts in the last year, mainly by property developers."

"This draft neighbourhood plan fell foul of two key principles: consultation responses must inform the draft neighbourhood plan and policies must support the strategic development needs set out in the local plan. Expect to see further neighbourhood plan examination failures and legal challenges in 2017," he said.

Neighbourhood planning was introduced by the 2011 Localism Act as a means of giving local people more of a say in planning decisions affecting their local communities.

Sandon and Burston Parish Council was the first of the councils within Stafford Borough to begin discussions to put a neighbourhood plan in place, according to local publication the Staffordshire Newsletter. However, four other parishes in the borough have since had their plans formally adopted.