The Neighbourhood Planning Group was set up by Tarset and Greystead Parish Council to create a local plan for Tarset and Greystead. Full details of the process are included in the distributed pamphlet.
Many of you may have been wondering what has happened to the Neighbourhood Development Plan. It is now almost five years since the Parish Council, responding to the government’s new ‘Localism’ agenda, decided to take advantage of recent government legislation and commission a Neighbourhood Development Plan. Neighbourhood planning is intended to give communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area. After five years’ work on the Tarset & Greystead Plan by local volunteers, and the enthusiastic support of the draft Plan policies by 95% of the local community, the Tarset & Greystead Plan was submitted for examination in June 2015 to Nigel McGurk, the examiner appointed by the two local planning authorities (LPAs), Northumberland National Park Authority (NNPA) and Northumberland County Council (NCC). Unfortunately, when his report was received in February 2016, it became apparent that Mr. McGurk had decided to remove almost all local content from the Plan, including key policies. Since that time, NNPA has chosen not to challenge the examiner’s report, despite the best representations on your behalf by the Steering Group. The Parish Council, at its recent meeting on 18th January, therefore concluded with great regret that, for the reasons explained further below, it had no option but to withdraw the Plan.
Work on the Neighbourhood Development Plan began in 2012 when a group of local volunteers was asked by the Parish Council to form a Steering Group to develop and write a local plan specific to Tarset & Greystead, in order to put ‘flesh on the bones’ of the much more generalised National Park policies, and enable planning in our community to reflect residents’ wishes. The community was consulted throughout the entire process via questionnaires, meetings and feedback sessions. From 2012 until the Plan was finally submitted for examination in June 2015, the Steering Group met with planning professionals from NNPA and NCC on a regular basis, developing policies that reflected residents’ feedback and were compatible with relevant local and national planning legislation. Representatives from NNPA and NCC attended almost all meetings, guiding, advising and supporting the Steering Group throughout. Draft policies were always tested at these meetings to ensure compliance with relevant planning legislation. In addition, the Group commissioned one of the NNPA’s professional planning representatives at Steering Group meetings to translate the policies that had evolved into a final draft Plan. During this entire process, on which considerable sums of public money were expended, other professionals were involved and advised as the need arose, including Planning Aid England, architects, utilities, forestry commission and others. In particular, the Tarset & Greystead Landscape and Design Assessment commissioned from local architects Spence & Dower was invaluable as part of the key evidence base informing the Plan. Gradually, with the help of all these professionals, the Tarset & Greystead Plan emerged.
Prior to submission, all relevant stakeholders were consulted, and all issues raised were addressed and the Plan amended as required. At this stage, NNPA responded twice with a number of issues, as did NCC, and all of the matters they raised were also addressed in the revised Plan. To be absolutely sure that all aspects had been covered, the Steering Group then employed the services of another Neighbourhood Planning examiner, who submitted a ‘health check’ report on the draft Plan. He was of the opinion that this was one of the best Neighbourhood Development Plans he had read, and he has subsequently used it as an exemplar in his training sessions. He suggested only minor amendments to the Plan, and all of these were made. At this point, when all stakeholders had responded and final adjustments had been made, the Plan was submitted for public examination in June 2015.
Unknown to the Steering Group, on 16th November 2015 - the last day of the official six-week consultation period - NNPA chose to submit to the examiner, a document listing almost 50 comments on the Plan, which they did not share with the Steering Group or Parish Council. Most of these were negative and, crucially, the document gave no indication of overall support. Extraordinarily, NNPA’s reservations about the Plan had not been identified during the years we worked with them, or during the pre-submission time-period allowed for such responses. By contrast, NCC also submitted a response to the examiner which was extremely supportive of the Plan and identified no issues of substance requiring alteration. It remains incomprehensible to the Steering Group that, having worked as partners in this lengthy process, this late intervention could occur or be interpreted as anything other than extremely damaging. The Group can only guess at the reasons for, or the impact of, this late submission - to which it had no opportunity to respond. It is clear that such a negative document, with no indication of support from the principal local planning authority involved, sent a clear message to the examiner.
The Steering Group then had to wait until February 2016 for the examiner’s report. When it appeared it was extremely negative. It had either deleted or substantially amended most of the policies, and removed almost all local content, in stark contrast to the government’s intention that neighbourhood plans should flesh out the more generalised content in local authority plans. The plan as amended by the examiner is now effectively impotent, and so emasculated that it is little different from the National Park’s own policies. A Neighbourhood Plan examiner’s role is not to “re-interpret, restructure or re-write a plan to conform to a standard approach”. Mr McGurk however did all of these things and in our opinion substantially exceeded his brief. He has, incidentally, also been responsible for the substantial modification of a number of other plans nationally, several of which have been withdrawn as a result. Sadly it has become increasingly apparent from a range of examples nationwide that some planning authorities and professionals are resistant to the entire Localism agenda.
Despite the Steering Group submitting to NNPA a detailed written response to the examiner’s recommendations, with a full explanation as to why his alterations and deletions are contrary to the wishes expressed by the local community, and engaging constructively in communication and meetings first with the NNPA, and latterly with both LPAs, there has been little movement. The Steering Group has therefore had to advise the Parish Council accordingly. On the basis that ‘no plan is better than a bad plan’ the Parish Council therefore decided at its meeting on 18th January to withdraw the Plan and bring to an end this extremely time-consuming, and unfortunately in the end abortive, exercise.
Neighbourhood Development Plan Steering Group on behalf of Tarset and Greystead Parish Council
Members of the group are:
The group can be contacted by email at email@example.com