Stages of preparing a neighbourhood plan

1. Defining the neighbourhood area

Local people need to decide how they want to work together. In areas with a parish council, the parish council will take the lead on neighbourhood planning. In areas without a parish council, local people will need to decide which organisation should take the lead on co-ordinating local debate.

Initial ideas should be discussed with the Borough Council in order to address any questions or concerns.  The parish council (or whoever) can them come forward with the proposed area for designation by submitting a formal application to the Borough Council. Once submitted, the Borough Council will  examine the application to confirm that prescribed requirements have been met, and if so, approve it.

The Borough Council (in the role as local planning authority) is legally required to provide advice and assistance to those bodies producing a neighbourhood plan in its area.

2. Preparing the plan

Local people need to work together and prioritise their ideas and draw up the neighbourhood plan. Preparing to write a neighbourhood plan includes publicity, development of local partnerships, community consultation and engagement, and the building of an evidence base to support the content of the plan. The plan must follow some basic ground rules, including being in line with local and national policies and other laws. If the Borough-wide Local Plan says an area needs to grow, communities cannot use neighbourhood planning to restrain development.  However, they can use it to influence the type, design, location and mix of new development.

3. Pre-submission publicity and consultation

Neighbourhood planning regulations require a draft neighbourhood plan to be the subject of a pre-submission consultation before it is submitted to the Borough Council to progress the independent examination. The consultation should last at least 6 weeks. The neighbourhood planning body (parish council, etc.) will need to approve the consultation draft of the plan and undertake the public consultation.

Prior to the pre-submission consultation, it is advisable that the draft neighbourhood plan be discussed with the Borough Council to check whether there are any concerns in relation to content, and over meeting the 'basic conditions'. This would allow these to be addressed, prior to the public consultation taking place.

4. Submission to the Borough Council

The draft neighbourhood plan must be submitted to the Borough Council (as the local planning authority). After submission, responsibility for taking the plan forward lies with the Borough Council who will publicise the plan and arrange for the independent examination. This will consider whether the neighbourhood plan meets the 'basic conditions' and other legal requirements.

The Borough Council is responsible for checking that the submitted neighbourhood plan has followed the proper legal process, such as the neighbourhood area being designated and the legal requirements for consultation and publicity having been followed. The Borough Council is then responsible for publicising the plan for a minimum 6 week period of public consultation and arranging for the independent examination. The publicity gives people an opportunity to make representations on the plan that will be passed to the independent examiner.

5. Independent examination

In consultation with the neighbourhood planning body the Borough Council will appoint an appropriately qualified and experienced person to carry out the independent examination of the neighbourhood plan.

The independent examiner will check that the neighbourhood plan meets the right, basic standards. If it doesn't meet the standards, the examiner will recommend changes. The Borough Council will then need to consider whether to make those changes. If the examiner recommends significant changes, the neighbourhood planning body may decide to consult the local community again before proceeding.

6. Community referendum

If the neighbourhood plan is found to be satisfactory (with modifications if necessary) at examination, the Borough Council will arrange for a referendum to take place. This will be organised by the Borough Council's elections unit who will be required to give notice that a referendum is taking place and the date of the poll. The referendum makes sure that the community has the final say on whether a neighbourhood plan comes into force. Only people living in the neighbourhood who are registered to vote in local elections will be entitled to vote in the referendum. If more than 50% of people voting support the plan, then the Borough Council must bring it into force.

7. Bringing the plan into legal force / 'Making' the neighbourhood plan

If successful at referendum, a neighbourhood plan comes into force as part of the development plan for the area alongside the adopted West Lancashire Local Plan and the Lancashire Minerals and Waste Local Plan. It would also need to be endorsed by the Council as adopted Council policy. The Borough Council and planning inspectors considering planning applications or appeals are required by law to make their decisions in accordance with the policies of the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.