A Neighbourhood Plan is a framework for guiding the development, regeneration and conservation of a locality. It centres on the use and development of land and buildings but can also cover issues such as employment or transport, depending on what is important to the residents. In our case the parish councils of Stapleford and Great Shelford have decided that local interests are best served by having one Neighbourhood Plan to cover the two parishes, and the Plan’s organisational structure reflects that. This decision on the Plan’s geographical scope was endorsed by South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC) in November 2016: a significant milestone, known as “designation”, because there is now a legal obligation on the District Council to support our Plan. (This was Step 2 of the process: see diagram for an outline of the overall process.) Details of the support South Cambridgeshire District Council is making available can be found in their draft document here.
A Neighbourhood Plan has to be driven by residents. All sections of the community must be given the opportunity to contribute their views and suggestions, and there must be evidence that consultation has taken place and that people’s views have been taken into account (Step 4).
When our Plan is complete, South Cambridgeshire District Council will arrange for it to be submitted to an independent examiner, whose role is to certify that the proper legal process has been followed and that the Plan is not incompatible with local or national strategy (Step 6). Once approved by the examiner, the Plan then becomes the object of a referendum of all voters registered in its area (Step 7). If the residents vote to accept the Plan the Plan is then “made”, in the jargon. This is crucial because, unlike parish plans and village design statements, the Plan is then legally binding on South Cambridgeshire District Council as the planning authority.
The Plan is intended to cover the development of our two parishes over the next twenty years (with reviews and updates, of course). Experience from other areas suggests that the process of collecting initial views, deeper consultation, formulating the Plan and conducting the referendum typically takes around two years. The Plan is currently at Step 4 and we are about to embark on a major consultation with residents via a survey.