As we Predicted Dawlish ‘Not A Neighbourhood Plan’ Fails Examination #NPPF

On Friday Christopher Balch, professor of planning at Plymouth University, and examiner into the Dawlish Not a Neighbourhood Plan published his report here.

The Key Findings are:

[It] reflects the NPPF by providing a positive approach to plan-led growth to deliver sustinable development with the aim of producing clear economic, social and environmental benefits.  However because of its timing in relation to the production of strategic policies it is not possible to demonstrate that the provision for housing growth is based on an objective assessment of housing need.  This is a key flaw…which cannot be remedied until the Teignbridge District Council’s Core strategy/Local Plan is settled.

While the DPNP is in broad conformity with the strategic policy of the Preferred Options Report, there are substantive differences in terms of both housing and employment land.  While it may be possible to resolve these, particularly as the strategic policies remain to be settled, as currently drafted the two documents are in clear conflict….

While it is not a requirement that neighbourhood plans pass the ‘test of soundness’, my assessment ..has found that it is neither positively prepared nor justified.

This leads me to recommend that the plan should not proceed to a referendum.

The inspector’s letter says ‘”It has been clear from the outset that the main purpose of the neighbourhood plan was to give the community an opportunity to help shape the emerging core strategy as it relates to Dawlish. This has been achieved.”

The examiner seems to have made an elementary mistake in not determining the conformity of the NP to the ‘strategic policies of the development plan’ (an old style local plan) but to an emerging plan.  Where in the NPPF does it give too different definitions to the term ‘development plan’.  It is difficult to see a trained inspector making this error.  How can you judge conformity to something a replacement plan which doesnt yet exist?  Indeed the examiner said it wasnt possible.  Imagine an examination is a few years time where one local plan with strategic policies is being replaced by another plan with strategic policies, the examiner seems to have sown confusion by adding the principle that doesn’t exist in the NPPF that the ‘development plan’ means one thing for decision making and another definition n(which he has made up on the fly and is nowhere in the NPPF) for neighbourhood plan making.

The report is also somewhat laborious in seemingly testing the NP against every para of the NPPF, where in the NPPF does it say that? It says it for local plans but not neighbourhood plans.  Also he tests the plan against the soundness tests – again not required – he made it up as he went along.  Yes there does need to be a test that neighbourhood plans need to be justifed by evidence and effectivge but that is a fault of the NPPF which should be pointed out.  Again it gives the impression that NP examinations should be painful and laborious, no the aim is for them to be short and lightweight with reports quickly issues and very short, if that is the main issues of need and national policy conformity are dealt with at the local plan examination.

The report is 42 pages long, many core strategy reports are 6 pages long (though without of course allocations).  Clearly not a good precedent and showing that the way NP examinations are supposed to work in the NPPF is unclear and not fit for purpose.

Where next?  Well if the Local Plan fully meets housing need it might need an additional housing site.  If it reduces housing targets in the niave way it recently proposed it would need less.  Which means of course the strategic issues need to be resolved first.

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