1,000th Neighbourhood Plan marks continued growth of neighbourhood planning

by Ed Dade


Posted on March 8, 2020


February 2020 saw an important milestone achieved, with the total number of approved Neighbourhood Plans reaching 1,000.

Total number of Neighbourhood Plans by referendum date (1) (1).png

Source: Planfinder

About the Planfinder data

My Planfinder app provides the data source for this blog post. The Planfinder is a database of all Neighbourhood Plans which have successfully passed referendum. The Planfinder is maintained and updated regularly from my own research and monitoring of Neighbourhood Plan progress.

Joint Neighbourhood Plans (i.e. covering multiple parishes) and Neighbourhood Plans crossing a local authority boundary (i.e. forming part of the development plan in multiple local authority areas), are counted only once.

The Neighbourhood Plan data described in this post also includes Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders, as these are closely related to Neighbourhood Plans, follow a similar process in their preparation, and also fall under the 'umbrella' term of neighbourhood planning. However, these other 'tools' only constitute a very small portion of the overall total number of plans.

Growth of Neighbourhood Plans

On the 27 February 2020, the total number of approved Neighbourhood Plans (according to the Planfinder) reached 1,000. However, there was no single 'one-thousandth plan', as multiple plans successfully passed referendum on 27 February.

Since the first plans were approved at referendum back in 2013, the number of Neighbourhood Plans has steadily increased. The chart illustrates the cumulative total of Neighbourhood Plans, by month since 2013.

Growth by year

Each year has seen an increase in the number of Neighbourhood Plans approved. As it usually takes several years to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan, it is perhaps unsurprising that relatively few plans passed referendum in the initial years. However, in recent years, the number of approved Neighbourhood Plans has grown substantially.

On average, there were roughly 17 plans approved each month in 2017, rising to 18 per month in 2018.

2019 saw the most Neighbourhood Plans pass referendum, with 245 plans approved in total. This equates to an average of approximately 20 plans passing referendum each month.

Early indications suggest a similar trend for 2020, with 38 plans having already passed referendum in just the first two months of the year (i.e. average of 19 per month).

Table: Total number of Neighbourhood Plans approved by year

Year referendum held Total Neighbourhood Plans approved Average no. of plans approved each month
201360.5
2014363
2015836.92
201617014.17
201720817.33
201821417.83
201924520.42
20203819

Most common month for a referendum

November is the busiest month for Neighbourhood Plan referendums, whilst April sees the fewest. In practice, the Neighbourhood Planning regulations set time constraints on holding a referendum, and therefore the date of the vote will be largely influenced by preceding stages, such as the submission of the plan and independent examination.

The following lists the number of plans approved at referendum by month (across all years):

  • November - 122 plans;
  • May - 121 plans;
  • February - 117 plans;
  • September - 117 plans;
  • July - 110 plans;
  • October - 91 plans;
  • March - 85 plans;
  • January - 71 plans;
  • June - 57 plans;
  • December - 51 plans;
  • August - 34 plans;
  • April - 24 plans.

What can these thousand plans tell us?

It is clearly very positive to see so many communities exercising their rights and engaging in neighbourhood planning. These thousand Neighbourhood Plans will have had an enormous 'reach', involving many thousands of people during their preparation and at the consultation stages. These plans will influence countless planning decisions over their lifetime and cover a large geographic area.

The number of plans being approved each year is increasing. Each year more plans are approved than in the previous. This suggests there is a strong, and growing appetite for communities to engage in neighbourhood planning. 

In addition, for every plan which has successfully completed the process, many more are likely being prepared.

Despite the increasing rate at which Neighbourhood Plans are approved, the total number of plans represents a relatively small proportion of the number of communities in the country. There are 9,000 parishes in England, and countless non-parished communities, meaning most areas do not have a Neighbourhood Plan in place. Therefore, there remains the potential for the number of Neighbourhood Plans to grow substantially.

Future growth

To enable neighbourhood planning to continue to grow, it is critical that communities continue to receive necessary support. For example, many communities depend on the government's grant funding (currently administered by Locality) to cover the costs of preparing a Neighbourhood Plan.

Local planning authorities (LPAs) continue to play an important role in supporting the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans. At present, central government provides funding to LPAs to help meet the costs of neighbourhood planning. This funding is essential - without it LPAs may be reluctant to see Neighbourhood Plans come forward, due to the impacts these plans would have on their already stretched resources.

Neighbourhood planning remains, arguably, the most effective way for communities to engage in planning. The planning system must recognise the important status Neighbourhood Plans hold in law. Issues such as the presumption in favour of sustainable development, and the increasing penalties from the Housing Delivery Test, can frustrate the neighbourhood planning process and result in the approval of proposals which are counter to the community's vision. If Neighbourhood Plans are seen as making little difference, it could deter communities from preparing a plan and reduce engagement in the planning process.

Ultimately, this data helps to show that Neighbourhood Plans have become an established part of the planning system.

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