Dalton Town Council is considering the possibility of developing its own Neighbourhood Plan for the town.

Currently, a Parish Plan is in the process of being produced,and this is an excellent tool for a community to assess current and future issues, to think about all aspects of community life in the area and to set out a plan of action. It is evidence of a strong community that has given clear thought to its needs; BUT … it has no formal weight and cannot influence planning and infrastructure except to a minimal degree.

Ultimately, if you want a strong influence over local land use planning issues only a Neighbourhood Plan will achieve this. A Parish Plan can be a step towards achieving it and can add value to a Neighbourhood Plan. There is nothing to stop the two running in parallel – identifying issues through a Parish Plan, then tackling those which are planning-related in a Neighbourhood Plan.

What is a Neighbourhood Plan?

Introduced under the Localism Act 2011, they empower communitiesto identify where new homes, shops, offices and other development should be built; the type, mix and design of these new buildings; what infrastructure should be provided; and to protect against inappropriate development by including policies maintaining the character of the area and identifying and protecting important local green spaces. In essence, they give local people the tools to ensure they get the right type of development for their community, rather than having this imposed on them.

Once adopted, a Neighbourhood Plan would become part of the Borough Council’s Local (statutory development) Plan and would form the basis for determining planning applications in our area, as well as protecting our green spaces.

What are the advantages of a Neighbourhood Plan?

* They carry real legal weight. Planning applications are assessed against them; appeals are determined against them. They influence planning decisions made by the Borough Council because the Council must take note of the policies in a Neighbourhood Plan.

* They reflect the needs of local residents. Without a Neighbourhood Plan, every planning application will continue to be assessed only against National and District/Borough policies, taking no account of local housing needs, parking and traffic issues and lack of infrastructure.

* They can help ensure that recreational, social and educational needs of local people are considered in future developments.

* Although mainly about land use, a good plan will consider issues such as parking, air quality, and traffic and look at how future development may impact on or improve this. Influence beyond land use is limited but they can help inform discussions with the highway authority on traffic management measures.

* The local community gains 25 percent of the revenues from the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) arising from any development that takes place in our area.

* It is anticipated that, in the future, communities without a Neighbourhood Plan are likely to become more vulnerable to aggressive planning applications for larger numbers of houses, or for development in areas where the community does not wish to see development.

What are the disadvantages of a Neighbourhood Plan?

Preparation of a Neighbourhood Plan requires a huge amount of time and effort from the community, the parish/town council and others who volunteer to contribute to the plan preparation. Consultants might also be needed to help with certain aspects. Done properly and in accordance with statutory regulations – as it must be – it could take two to three years from start to final adoption of the Plan.

It can cost anywhere between a few thousand pounds and tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the complexity of the plan and whether you hire external consultants to help you. However, there are grants available which cover a significant proportion of the cost.

Neighbourhood planning is not a free hand; it must be “in general conformity with strategic policies” in the Local Plan and, as such, cannot prevent development already in a Local Plan. What it can do is shape where that development will go and what it will look like.

What must be done initially

We are looking for people with a range of technical skills – including (for example) experience in team leadership, project management, IT design and maintenance, use of social media, analytical, communication – written and verbal, market research, an understanding of the planning system. However, you don’t need any special skills – just a desire to help and to want the best for the future of Dalton. Just as important is enthusiasm, a willingness to undertake the more mundane tasks (such as delivering leaflets), and the ability to talk to and enthuse others.

Due to the statutory weight afforded to a Neighbourhood Development Plan, their preparation can be complex, time-consuming and costly. The rewards, though, could be significant.

Please let us know what you think and whether you would be willing to help. This is a community-led project and without support from you we cannot take the Plan forward. If you are interested leave your details with The Town Clerk at Dalton Town Hall.