Community Lincs has recently completed a survey of parish councils across Lincolnshire to understand why there has been a relatively low take up of parishes undertaking Neighbourhood Plans. We wanted to understand the issues that might be holding parishes back and to identify what support could be offered to increase the take up.
The survey produced a 10% response rate and the pattern of responses closely mirrored the spread of Neighbourhood Planning activity by district with West Lindsey returning most responses, closely followed by South and North Kesteven and someway behind responses from East Lindsey and South Holland.
From the responses received some 31% were not actively considering Neighbourhood Plans or had decided not to undertake one. The key reasons for not progressing were:
- The parish was too small to benefit from a Neighbourhood Plan
- They could not get enough interest from the community to support one
- A lack of capacity within the parish council to be able to undertake all the work involved
- They did not see sufficient benefit for the level of work involved in completing one
There were an equal number of parishes (31%) who responded that they had decided to undertake a Neighbourhood Plan and were making progress. Although at different stages some key learning points were highlighted by them:
- Ensure there is a good mix on the steering group between councillors and community members
- It is vital to work for early engagement with the community
- Questionnaire design needs careful consideration to ensure the right information is collected and it is structured for easy analysis
- Carefully select and use consultants to help with key elements of the process
- Make a project plan and ensure that grant funding is in place before running events
In addition to the 31% of respondent parishes which are currently undertaking a Neighbourhood Plan there were a further 22% who have completed their Neighbourhood Plan. Some indicated they have already had benefit from having a Neighbourhood Plan in place. Many felt the plan was giving protection against inappropriate development and in some cases had already been used to influence specific planning applications. However there was not universal support, with some parish councils feeling that their District Council were not taking due regard of their Neighbourhood Plans in planning decisions, and others who felt sceptical that their completed plan would not be fully considered by planners when an application is assessed.
Those parishes that have completed the process did have some good advice for anyone just beginning. This included:
- Don’t underestimate the work involved. Look at the guidelines and stick to planning matters – don’t waste time on issues not covered by Neighbourhood Plans
- Use previously made plans available on line and look at Inspectors’ reports to avoid pitfalls
- Engage early and several times with residents
- Undertake plenty of consultation, but don’t rush it
- Seek local consultant support rather than major national consultancies ‘who charge a lot for doing little and don’t meet you in person’
- Have a register of helpers as well as the basic working group/committee structure and harness their help
- Collect email addresses so that the Parish residents can be kept informed
All respondents were happy with the general range of Neighbourhood Planning information available. Most found their District Council Officers helpful and supportive and many found information events useful. Respondents found help and advice from local consultants to be more useful than national or out of county providers. There was a desire for more case studies to be available and the opportunity to make visits to parishes that have already gone through the Neighbourhood Planning process.
From our experience at Community Lincs we have found that getting the early stages of the process right are most important. With this in mind we have worked with District Councils to develop a package of support which can take a community through those initial stages. This includes ensuring that undertaking a Neighbourhood Plan is the right thing for a community to do; explain the process, benefits and pitfalls of Neighbourhood Planning and support groups to develop their early engagement with their local communities. In the cases of West Lindsey District Council and North Kesteven District Council we have negotiated service level agreements so that this initial support is at no cost to individual parishes.
The survey suggests that for the many small parishes across the county there will always be the question of whether the benefits of Neighbourhood Plans can justify the commitment of resources, volunteer time and funding required in producing one. In many cases they view that the wider Local Plan provides sufficient cover for their needs.
This still leaves many larger parishes which have not, as yet, given full consideration to the Neighbourhood Planning process. The survey suggests that there is no shortage of quality information and support available to help parishes undertake an initial assessment of the interest within the community for undertaking a Neighbourhood Plan.
Community Lincs would recommend that parishes give Neighbourhood Plans consideration and use local resources to help them. They should contact their District Council Officers to start the process and make use of the wide range of information on the internet.
For further information from Community Lincs please contact firstname.lastname@example.org