Note on Possible Modifications to the Village Design Statement (VDS) and the West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan (NP)
1. Introduction and Purpose of Note
This note has been prepared for the consideration of the WBPC as to the need for refinements and future direction of the NP. It includes the triggers for why the PC may need to do this and proposes some courses of action that the PC may wish to endorse.
2. Background and Context
The VDS was produced in 2011 and was adopted by CCC as supplemental Planning Guidance. The VDS was produced as a natural follow on to the Parish Plan. It covers design details which the Planning Committee considers when making observations and recommendations on Planning Applications received from CCC. It has specific policies which are often quoted to support recommendations that the Planning Committee makes. Certain of the more important VDS policies appear in the NP. It has served the PC well, but contains a mixture of fundamental policy-led principles, and those which are bordering on the finer details of how features of new build or extensions may appear. In short, some 10 years after it was produced it needs updating.
The West Bergholt Neighbourhood Plan was adopted by the Council following a referendum held on 19th September 2019. Residents voted overwhelmingly in favour, with 862 people (94% of those voting) in favour and 59, (6%) against. The turnout was 41% of the electorate which was at the time an exceptionally high turn out for a voting day which didn’t coincide with any national or District election. Minute ref 19/132. The plan was adopted by Colchester Borough Council on 16th October 2019 (minute ref 19/148). The NP is extensively documented here https://westbergholt-pc.gov.uk/parish-council/policies-procedures/neighbourhood-plan/ .
Since that time progress on certain matters has been delayed by the Pandemic including progressing many of the community ambitions, however the development of housing sites has continued apace, with Bergholt Place in particular nearing completion, and other sites to the north of Colchester Road gradually passing through their Planning Application stages.
There is no pressing need to start preparation of the next NP in terms of finding more housing sites, but Planning as an activity never stands still, and it is always prudent to consider what might need to be looked at going forward. In this respect the phrase “the Plan is nothing, but Planning is everything” is apposite.
Discussions with CCC as Planning Authority
In discussions, including advice received from Colchester Borough Council officers, the following are matters that need active consideration:
- Updating the West Bergholt Village Design Statement (VDS), which is both a standalone document, and which has certain aspects included within the NP policies
- Considering the way the NP might need to change in the medium term, to meet the needs of the community, and the mechanism that may be best employed to consider this in an holistic community-focussed way, not necessarily a complete updating exercise, but simply a review. The NP is in step with CCCs local Plan which runs until 2033. CCC may be expected to look at reviewing its Local Plan as early as 2025 and because of this it would be wise to consider a light touch review of the NP before this date.
3 Options and Proposals
There are three options for the VDS:
- a brand-new standalone document which would still mean that it would need to be endorsed by CCC, but would remain only a material consideration for planning applications.
- Alternatively, a minor tweaking of the document to enable those aspects which need to receive minor updates or more emphasis or indeed need removing in the light of experience or lastly
- Changes to the way that VDS policies are reflected in the NP.
In the case of option c, CCC Planners have advised that only very minor changes to the NP can be considered as non-material. Planners further advise these must only include amending factual inaccuracies and typographical errors. Any more than this may require oversight by a Planning Inspector, further consultation or even a further referendum! Because of this advice a cautionary approach would be appropriate with continual checking on any changes between the PC and CCC to avoid statutory consultation and referendum for modest changes.
CCC has helpfully provided some guidance on Monitoring and Review a summary of which appears as an appendix. IF there was any pressing need to modify the NP then it would appear from the guidance that only minor factual inaccuracies could be contemplated without invoking the full consultation and examination procedure which is probably best left for the future.
Wider revisions to the NP
Since adoption in 2019, there have been changes in NP legislation, developing NPPF frameworks, the onset of the energy and cost of living crisis, Brexit legislative implications for the environment and the wider sustainability and Climate emergency agendas. There are also changes in the way that local and national policies and infrastructure and housing agendas have been devised. For these reasons a future NP is likely to have to be substantially amended to reflect Council and Community priorities.
Options for these considerations include:
- Waiting until 2025-6 before revising the plan
- Starting preliminary work with the community in an inclusive, non-threatening manner over the next 2 years, such that the PC and the wider village community is prepared for the more formal consultations and engagement steps
Active and incremental Planning is always preferable to a more precipitative change forced upon either the Council or upon the wider community. These can be misinterpreted at best, or at worst the community felt it is being “done to”, and so for these reasons it is proposed to ask a reconstituted NP Steering Committee to consider the above both for the immediate future of the VDS and the wider development of a future NP.
In terms of Governance, the PC remains the sponsor of the VDS and NP. The NP Steering Group, whilst not formally dissolved, has not met since 2019, and would need reassembling. Fortunately, several of the current PC members together with the former chair of the Steering Group are available to at least start the process off with others joining as interest grows.!
5. Recommendations and Next Steps
To agree to the reforming of the WBNP steering group, and in the short term their review of the 2009 Village Design Statement for P C approval.
To agree the WBNP steering group should review in the medium term the Neighbourhood Plan and place before the PC any modifications they consider might be prudent for discussion.
Initially it is suggested that a broad timeframe of June 2023 be considered for the agreement/submission of the revised approach to the VDS with the recommendations for the NP being devised by January 2024.
Appendix – Extract of CBC note on Preparing NPs
It is important to monitor the neighbourhood plan, once it is made. The Neighbourhood plan group should put procedures in place to do this.
Updating the Plan
Legislation via the Neighbourhood Planning Act 2017 and the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 allows for and outline the parameters for a review and allows for plans to be updated.
It is recommended that you contact Colchester City Council at the earliest possible stage to discuss your proposed review. There is no requirement for Neighbourhood plans to be reviewed, but the following must be considered:
- A review of the Local plan (Colchester City Local Plan Section 1 February 2021 and Section 2 July 2022)
- Changes to national planning policy or guidance
- A change in local circumstances (economic, social or environmental changes)
- A change in evidence base. (New surveys to be taken into account)
- Issue with policy implementation (effectiveness of the plan, is it having the anticipated outcome?)
Where a Neighbourhood Plan group is proposing to revise their plan, there are 3 types of modification which can be made to a neighbourhood plan. The process will depend on the degree of change which the modification involves.
1. Minor (non-material) updates that would not materially affect policies may be made by Colchester City Council with consent from the neighbourhood plan group. Similar to the provisions for correcting errors in the plan. In these instances, there would not be a need to repeat consultation, examination or referendum. These may include correcting errors, such as a reference to a supporting document, and would not require examination or a referendum.
Substantial revisions to a neighbourhood plan would need to go through the later stages of the process, from pre-submission consultation onwards.
2. Material modifications which do not change the nature of the plan would require examination but not a referendum. This method would require a regulation 14 consultation on the draft revisions to the plan. This is the same process as the first preparations of the neighbourhood plan. The Neighbourhood plan group must state whether they consider that the proposed modifications change the nature of the plan at the Regulation 14 consultation stage and subsequently at submission to Colchester City Council. Following submission of the relevant documents, a Regulation 16 publication is run by the Council over a period of usually 6-weeks.
3. Material modifications that change the nature of the plan is the same process as material modifications that do not change the nature of the plan as set out above however a referendum will be required. The examiner will assess the modified plan following the Regulation 16 8 Neighbourhood Plan support from Colchester City Council
consultation. A copy of the original plan must also be submitted to the independent examiner. The Neighbourhood plan group must decide whether they are going to proceed with the examination after they have received the examiners recommendations and whether they consider the proposed modifications change the nature of the plan.