Governance and Project Management

by Ed Dade


It can be tricky getting started writing a Neighbourhood Plan. There is a lot to organise and think about before you start writing policies.

You will need to consider:

  • Governance arrangements - who will write the plan, how decisions will be made, etc.
  • Project management - ensure the process is followed correctly, ensure tasks are completed on time, etc.
  • Finance arrangements - how the plan will be funded, how it will stick to the budget, etc.

Who can write a Neighbourhood Plan?

Where there is a parish council for an area, the parish council is responsible for preparing the plan. For most areas, especially rural communities, there will be an existing parish council - in parishes, no other group has the right to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan.

In areas without a parish council, which are typically in urban communities, a group called a Neighbourhood Forum must be established for the purpose of preparing the plan.

Governance

For most areas, the parish council will formally start the process by taking a vote on whether or not a plan should be written, and should set out the governance arrangements for preparing the plan.
A good governance 'model' for preparing a Neighbourhood Plan is:

  • Parish Council is responsible for taking decisions at various points in the plan-making process - for example, approving the plan to be published for consultation, submitting the plan to the district council, etc)
  • Establish a small 'Working Group' responsible for the day-to-day tasks of preparing the plan. This group could include parish councillors and parish council staff, but should also include local volunteers. 

This model works equally well where a Neighbourhood Forum is established. The Neighbourhood Forum would take on the roles and responsibilities which would otherwise be carried out by a parish council.

Recruiting volunteers

It is a good idea to recruit local people, who are not a part of the parish council, to help write your plan. You may find there are local people willing to give up their time, who may have a variety of useful skills to help write the plan. Also, local people often have good connections to local organisations, groups, businesses and schools - this can be really helpful when promoting and consulting on the plan.

Ultimately, recruiting people from outside of the parish council, can help the wider community to take ownership of the plan. It is important that the community believe in, and support the plan - once the plan is written, local people will vote on the plan at a referendum. The plan should reflect the views and aspirations of the wider community, not simply the views of the parish council.

Terms of Reference

It is a good idea to request working group members sign a 'Terms of Reference' document. This will be a sort of 'contract' between working group members and the parish council. This will help people to understand what they are being asked to do, and will manage expectations about what people can and cannot do.

Project management

Good project management is essential to getting the plan written in a timely-fashion. Plans with poor or no project management will, at best, take a long time to prepare (often going round in circles, over the same tired arguments), and at worst may fail to meet the necessary legal requirements - or may never materialise into a completed plan.

One person should be appointed the task of managing the project. This could be a parish clerk or parish councillor as they will likely have a good understanding of the way the parish council works - but this is not essential.

Writing a Neighbourhood Plan is likely to take roughly 18 months to two years, but it is possible to prepare a plan in as little as one year.

For an example of a project plan for a Neighbourhood Plan, see my post: 2019 Neighbourhood Plan Challenge.

Getting advice and support

Since neighbourhood planning has now been around for some time, there are a host of resources and guidance online, for more info see Essential Reading for Neighbourhood Planners

Your district or borough council has a legal duty to support you in preparing a Neighbourhood Plan. They won't write the plan for you, but can:

  • Explain what the local plan says for your area
  • Direct you to evidence to inform your plan
  • Help to guide you through the legal process of preparing the plan
  • Provide advice on writing policies and undertaking consultation and community engagement
  • Formally check whether your plan will have any environmental impacts (by carrying out a Strategic Environmental Assessment screening exercise)

Some parish councils choose to appoint a planning consultant to assist them in writing their Neighbourhood Plan. This is not essential and many neighbourhood plans have been completed without consultant support. However, you may choose to appoint a consultant where:

  • You feel you don't have enough time, or the right set of skills to write the plan
  • Your Neighbourhood Plan will address some complicated planning issues, and you need someone to mediate between the Parish Council and District Council

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