Friday, 19 August 2022

Neighbourhood plan has full legal weight, insists minister

HENLEY and Harpsden’s joint neighbourhood plan has been given a boost after rules which threatened its legal standing were scrapped, writes James Burton.

The document, which passed a referendum in March, names 11 sites in the two parishes where about 500 houses should be built by 2027 in order to meet government targets.

The plan faced a challenge in the summer when South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, admitted it had failed to secure enough immediately available land to meet the next five years’ housing demand.

Under planning law, this made its own local plan obsolete and planning officers argued this covered the neighbourhood plan as well. They said this meant new developments could only be rejected if they would cause significant harm to their surroundings.

Now housing minister Gavin Barwell has announced that neighbourhood plans should not be considered out of date as long as planning authorities can demonstrate a three-year housing land supply.

According to an assessment conducted in April last year, there is enough land to meet the next four years’ demand in Didcot and enough for nine years in the rest of South Oxfordshire, meaning Henley and Harpsden’s neighbourhood plan still carries full weight.

The Department for Communities and Local Government will formalise the change in a forthcoming white paper but Mr Barwell says his guidance should be observed for all planning applications and appeals from this week.

Henley MP John Howell, who introduced neighbourhood plans as part of the 2011 Localism Act, said: “I am grateful for the minister acknowledging the points we have been making to him about neighbourhood plans.

“Although case law is clear on what should be done where a neighbourhood plan exists but the local council does not have a five-year land supply, it is good to put the issue beyond doubt once and for all.

“This should bring immediate relief to many local neighbourhood plan groups. I will continue to put pressure on the minister to follow this line of argument when the white paper is produced.”

Former Henley town councillor Dieter Hinke, who chairs the steering group responsible for implementing the plan, welcomed the news.

He said: “I understand there has been a lot of disquiet about the status of neighbourhood plans, especially in the South, and this has forced the Government to act.

“It goes to show that people power can still get a result.

“This gives our plan considerably more weight, although I think the minister’s statement may still be queried by the judiciary as it pre-empts the white paper.”

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