STANDING UP FOR THE COUNTRYSIDE

What is a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP)?

In a climate where planning controls are being weakened and pressure is increasing for housing and economic development, neighbourhood plans provide communities with a means to guide local development.

A well prepared plan will identify the community’s needs (housing, business growth, infrastructure), and aspirations for the future as well as identifying landscape features and qualities that are locally valued such as views, tranquil areas and landmarks.

This is particularly important for landscapes and environments that do not have protection due to statutory designation such as Conservation Areas, AONBs, SSSIs or Green Belt, which is true of 79% of the Herefordshire countryside.

NDPs in Herefordshire

A high percentage of parish councils in Herefordshire have engaged with the complex but rewarding process of neighbourhood planning. With so many local plans, a rather fragmented approach across the county can result.

Communities often concentrate on the issues of rural housing, employment and economy but may be less aware of other threats to valued landscape features particularly from large scale farming (e.g. intensive livestock farming units and large-scale poly-tunnels) and renewable energy infrastructure (e.g. wind turbines and solar farms). Such development, if poorly located, can cause distress to neighbours, pollute the environment physically or visually and generally degrade the environment and landscape.

Neighbourhood Plans enable communities to set out principles to guide the selection of appropriate locations and appropriate scale.

Herefordshire CPRE as a consultee

CPRE Herefordshire, as a statutory consultee for Neighbourhood Plans at the ‘regulation 14’ stage, (the stage at which the plan has been drafted and is published for wider comment) is able to encourage communities to consider issues they may not have felt to be relevant to their locality.

The CPRE team have been impressed by the neighbourhood plans we have been asked to comment on – they display a depth of local knowledge and expertise, sensitivity to the environment and landscape as well as deep commitment.

In our comments we do not question local choices about the content or policy wordings, but we do suggest amendments or additions that reflect CPRE’s national concern for the rural landscape as a whole. We think it is important that communities consider identifying and stipulating ways of protecting:

  • Unique characteristics for example: ‘dark skies', tranquillity, a distinctive settlement pattern;
  • The setting and broad sweep of the landscape, important views and development on horizons;
  • Significant trees, hedgerows and wildlife habitats;
  • Features of the man-made environment, particularly unlisted features such as boundary stones, signposts, decorative features on barns, ancient paths, ditches and banks.

It is very useful to map such assets so that future development can be located sensitively.

In addition plans should set out principles for future development with a view to protecting local character visually and physically, by requiring new development to, for example:

  • incorporate sustainable urban drainage systems (SUDS);
  • use particular plant species when landscaping, for example using native species;
  • mitigate and prevent pollution of all kinds including noise, light, odour and visual blight;
  • incorporate high quality, sensitive design which enhances local landscape and settlement character
  • protect surface and sub-surface archaeology

NDPs & Housing Land Supply (HLS)

CPRE has always been an enthusiastic proponent of neighbourhood planning because it aims to put local people in charge of development that happens in their area, rather than merely being consulted on planning proposals. Whilst our enthusiasm for neighbourhood planning has not dimmed, the results of a number of recent planning appeals have highlighted a weakness in the system.

In Herefordshire we have seen planning decisions overturned (Ledbury) and appealed (Bartestree) because the Herefordshire Core Strategy (link to 4.2) has not identified a robust five year supply of land for housing development. This is symptomatic of a nationwide trend which is allowing speculative planning development contrary to neighbourhood plan policies. In May 2016, the Government turned down a proposal to give councils with Neighbourhood Plans in place or near completion the right to appeal such planning decisions. CPRE nationally (link to cpre.org.uk) continues to campaign for greater weight to be given to neighbourhood plans.

Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs): What will happen to those communities not producing one?

Herefordshire Council held a consultation in Summer 2017 looking at the issues and options for those areas in Herefordshire where an NDP is not being progressed.

The Rural Site Allocations Development Plan Document (RASA DPD) was published in June by Herefordshire Council. Unlike NDPs, which are produced by the local community, the RASA DPD will be produced by Herefordshire Council and will involve a number of consultation events and engagement with statutory bodies. Also, whilst the intention is to engage with the local community and parish councils, the RASA DPD will not be subject to a referendum.

HCPRE response to RASA DPD consultation.

We are very supportive of NDPs and pleased that 108 parishes (88%) have engaged with the process. We are also broadly supportive of this initiative to prepare plans to cover areas not covered by a locally prepared NDP. However, below are some of our chief concerns:

  • We believe it is essential that local people are involved to the maximum in the development of any plan for their settlement and community. Any other approach would be contrary to the spirit of neighbourhood planning and the Government’s localism agenda.
  • Affordable housing is an extreme problem for rural areas and is needed to enable younger people to live in rural settlements.

It is important that plans deliver the type of development that is needed and sites specifically allocated for affordable housing should be prioritised. If housing is delivered through small sites, by developers, the affordability issue will not be addressed. We propose a requirement that all new build includes a minimum number of affordable houses after which a developer could produce market price dwellings.