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Sway Neighbourhood Plan or Design Statement

Sway Neighbourhood Plan or Parish Design Statement

1.     Background

The Sway Village Design Statement which is available here was published in 2013. It is an excellent document which was adopted by the New Forest National Park Authority (NFNPA - who are our Local Planning Authority) as a Supplementary Planning Document - which means it must be considered in planning decisions. There's an NFNPA guide to Village Design Statements here (pdf).  Sway's Village Design Statement was written to fit under the policies of the NFNPA's "Core Strategy and Development Management Policies DPD" which had been approved and published in 2010.   It is a great testament to the twelve local residents and two NFNPA Officers who worked hard over some 18 months or more, that the Sway Village Design Statement has been mentioned in almost every Sway planning application since then, and has made a material difference in a number of planning applications and appeals.

Over the previous four years or so the NFNPA has been working towards a new Local Plan, and Sway Parish Council and local residents have commented at every stage, three major contributions being:  the response to the Local Plan Call for Views Oct 2015 (pdf) adobe icon Sway Response to Call for Views 2015 [407kb]; the response to the Draft Local Plan Nov 2016 (pdf) adobe icon Sway response to Draft Local Plan 2016 [218kb];  and the response to the Submission Draft Local Plan Feb 2018 (pdf).  Initially Sway suggested a limit on the size of new dwellings;  and also influenced changes in: the protection of hedges, increasing car parking for shops and commercial buildings, limiting outbuildings, increasing affordable housing, maintaining the 400m zone, ensuring mitigation and contributions from developers, and alleviating parking congestion.  Sway Parish Council continued to contribute vigorously through a number of further rounds of refinement and consultation culminating in five Sway Parish Councillors attended and speaking at the two-week long public examination by government Planning Inspectors - see details linked from here.   

The final NFNPA Local Plan 2016-2036 was adopted in August 2019 and is available here as a pdf.


2.     Neighbourhood Planning

As part of the Localism strategy the government introduced the option of a Neighbourhood Plan - fuller details here.  In brief a Neighbourhood Plan should indicate where a local council might approve of further development and in exchange that local council get an additional 10% of any Community Infrastructure Levy coming from larger developments.  The process is long and costly - see for instance the Locality "Neighbourhood Plans Roadmap" linked from here and culminates in a local referendum where at least 50% of those voting must approve in order for the Neighbourhood Plan to be adopted.  The NFNPA also has a "Neighbourhood Planning Protocol" guide - available here as a pdf


3.     Meeting with the NFNPA 2019 

In November 2019 Sway Parish Council and the Parish Clerk met with: David Illsley (the NFNPA Policy Manager - and essentially the author of the NFNPA Local Plan and a few thousand pages of the hard evidence to support it); Claire Wolff (NFNPA Planning Officer with a particular expertise in community engagement); and Melanie Seacombe - the author of the Sway Village Design Statement - and also a previous Sway Parish Councillor.

We'd previously had input from Ted Watts, Convenor of the Sway VDS, an extended opportunity to peruse the Neighbourhood Plan Road Map and other documents linked above, and one Councillor had a fuller opportunity to consult the book 'Neighbourhood Planning in Practice'.  The Parish Clerk had passed on comments from other Clerks; and one Councillor had collated possible questions and discussion points and circulated those to all concerned.

There was extensive discussion for a couple of hours - concentrating on getting good advice from the three visitors - and they responded generously and helpfully giving us the balanced facts and the benefits of their experiences and knowledge, but little direction.  The visitors then left with our thanks and the Parish Council discussed matters.  

Through the meeting we noted (inter alia and in random order):

o  A Neighbourhood Plan is aimed at the local community saying where they want development - not where they don't want it.  It should be more supportive of development than restrictive, and should be evidence-based.

o  A neighbourhood Plan cannot ensure specific uses in specific areas - but can suggest suitable new areas for development.

o  It is extremely unlikely that Sway could get a Neighbourhood Plan in place and fully approved before an application at the Church Lane site is decided - so we would not be able to influence that development through a Neighbourhood Plan, nor gain any Community Infrastructure Levy payments.

o  We currently anticipate that it is not likely that Sway will have another such major housing development (after Church Lane) for quite a few years.

o  Neighbourhood Plans absolutely cannot change or delete or abrogate or override current National or Local Planning Authority (LPA) planning rules; e.g. the NFNPA Local Plan or the National Planning Policy Framework.

o  The NFNPA would be pleased to support a Neighbourhood Plan (see also NFNPA notes here), or an update to a Village/Parish Design Statement (as they did previously for our VDS).  

o  A Neighbourhood Plan has to be supported in a local referendum by more than 50% of those that vote.

o  Without recourse to revisiting every fine detail it seems unlikely that a Neighbourhood Plan would have prevented or significantly changed any of the recent decisions that we listed in our notes and that Sway residents broadly opposed; because the decisions were in line with national and LPA policies.

o  We do not obviously have any group of residents demanding something that could be achieved by a Neighbourhood Plan.

o  A Neighbourhood Plan can act to add community coherence - but if that were the main objective it might be better achieved by other methods.

o  If we wanted to use a Neighbourhood Plan to support an environmental charter, for instance by saying we wanted to have only sustainable housing or new houses only with solar panels, then we probably have to get a paid viability study ("Three Dragons" being a suitable company for that sort of work), before we could take it any further.

o  Sway Parish Council do not see any overarching objective that might be achieved by a Neighbourhood Plan

o  A Neighbourhood Plan must fit within the LPA Local Plan and when fully approved has the same status as the Local Plan - and hence a stronger authority than a Village Design Statement (which when adopted is a Supplementary Planning Document)

o  A Neighbourhood Plan is a lot of work and cost (e.g. 4 years' work for Hythe & Dibden or £40K for New Milton), typically takes a few years and must pass a local referendum.

o  The percentage of Community Infrastructure Levy going to the local council rises from 15% to 25% for local councils with a Neighbourhood Plan.   This is a substantial incentive to local councils with a lot of new housing development - for instance those local councils in the NFDC area.     

o  The NFNPA do not use the Community Infrastructure Levy method (instead using the Section 106 method) but the NFNPA are actively investigating turning to the Community Infrastructure Levy method.  

o  Even under the Community Infrastructure Levy method the payments are mainly for larger developments - not for the off one or two garden-grabs or windfall permissions; so given that Sway could not get a Neighbourhood Plan in place for the Church Lane development and given that that is likely to be the only large development within the civil parish for many years, it is unlikely that there would be much  Community Infrastructure Levy payments coming to Sway. 

o  All of the six NFNPA local councils that are along the path towards a Neighbourhood Plan have substantial housing development outside the National Park.  No local council entirely within the National Park (like we are) has yet started work on a Neighbourhood Plan.

o  There are some limited national funds to help towards a Neighbourhood Plan - but not for a Village Design Statement.

o  We have not recently surveyed or consulted Sway residents to see what they might suggest. 

o  It would be unlikely that a Neighbourhood Plan would be able to make a significant change to any of the planning issues we noted in our questions - most of which seem to be trying to overturn national or LPA policies. 

o  The comments of other Parish Clerks are probably not untypical - a Neighbourhood Plan does take a lot of time and effort, and that needs to be sustained over a few years and then supported in a local referendum.

o  Sway's VDS is now to some extent superseded by the new NFNPA Local Plan - so developers and planning applicants will point to it being dated.  We could either give it a quick face-lift (new appendix 2) or we go for a wider re-write - perhaps more of a (civil) Parish Design Statement - like Hordle's VDS or Boldre's Parish Design Statement


4.     Towards a Sway Parish Design Statement

Overwhelmingly Parish Councillors and the Parish Clerk felt that an update to the VDS - perhaps as a Parish Design Statement (PDS)  - was the best option, for many of the reasons noted above.  On balance the cost in time, effort and cash to produce a Neighbourhood Plan could not be justified by the limited benefits that we could expect.  It was also noted that if things changed there's nothing to prevent Sway returning to a Neighbourhood Plan later on.

There was a spectrum of opinion from some who felt a really thorough professionally driven consultation costing perhaps £10K would be a pre-requisite, through to some who felt the £600 sort of survey we carried out last time for the VDS would be more appropriate for a small Parish Council.   We did generally agree that combining a number of issues and strands around our current priority projects into one survey would probably be best.  

Similarly some felt a quick update to the VDS would be the best next step, others felt a more thoroughgoing rewrite as a Parish Design Statement would now be appropriate, and some suggested maybe the former, followed later by the latter...

In December 2019 we have to produce the budget for the financial year 2020/21 and so as an initial budget for that year we allocated £4,000 towards the Church Lane project recognising that some of the consultation cash would perhaps help with Church Lane; £4,000 towards a consultation including any professional support on designing and analysing and interpreting the consultation - to cover our current priority projects; and £1,000 towards a new Village or Parish Design Statement; and these items are in our budget and hence our precept for 2020/21.