Frequently Asked Questions
What is Neighbourhood Planning?
Neighbourhood planning allows the local community to have a say in shaping new development to ensure that it complements and works in harmony with the existing town. It can decide what type of development is required and what it should look like and can include policies regarding design standards. A Neighbourhood Plan can also make provision for community facilities, places of worship, green spaces, business premises and deal with transport and access issues.
Why are there two Neighbourhood Plans?
The first Neighbourhood Plan was for Silverleys and Meads Wards which were chosen initially because they include the area to the north west of the town that was set aside for future housing development by East Herts Council in the 1980s. Planning applications were being brought forward by the developers so producing policies for this area was therefore urgent. At the time, the Neighbourhood Planning process was relatively new and the team felt that it would take too long to deal with the whole town in one go and that it would be wrong to sacrifice the opportunity to influence these developments. Team members have been careful to consider the effects that developments will have on the rest of the town and ensure that appropriate infrastructure is put in place.
The second Neighbourhood Plan is for Bishop's Stortford All Saints, Central, South and part of Thorley Parish and work has now reached it's conclusion. The Neighbourhood Area includes a number of sites where East Herts is proposing new housing: the former station Goods Yard site near the centre of town where 250 homes are proposed, East of Manor Links where 150 homes are proposed, and Bishop’s Stortford South where either 1000 homes or 750 homes and a secondary school are proposed.
A questionnaire was sent to all households and businesses in Bishop's Stortford and Thorley asking for people's views on living in the town and its future requirements and over 1,700 replies were received. All residents and those working in the town are encouraged to contribute to the Plan's creation. In early 2015 a series of Focus Groups were held at the Council Chamber in Windhill on key aspects of the plan. There were further consultation days held in March 2016 and a formal consultation period took palce between 3rd March 2016 and 19th April 2016. Comments received during consultation were taken into account and, following examination by an independent examiner, the referendum was held in September 2017 gaining a 78% vote in favour.
What is the Neighbourhood Plan process?
Creating a Neighbourhood Plan requires a four-stage process:
- Set a designated area for the Plan
- Prepare and create the Plan, consult
- Independent examination - this is to check the plan meets the legislative requirements
- Referendum - if the Plan gets a simple majority it will be adopted and has statutory force
Both Neighbourhood Plans have completed this process and gained a majority in favour at referendum
Who developed the Neighbourhood Plans?
The development of the Neighbourhood Plans was led by teams of volunteers enlisted by the Town Council, The current team includes three Town Councillors who are also District Councillors and a County Councillor, a Thorley Parish Councillor, representatives of local schools, The Bishop's Stortford Civic Federation, Parsonage Residents Association, Thorley Manor Residents Association and Bishop's Stortford Chamber of Commerce, landowners, and several volunteers with a significant amount of local knowledge.
Is there any point in having a Neighbourhood Plan now that so many houses are going to be built in the north-west of the town?
Yes. The plan will have a life span of over 15 years so is designed to influence not just imminent planning applications but also future ones. The Neighbourhood Plan for Silverleys and Meads has already come into force, so it will apply to applications for the eastern part of the potential development and any other development in the Neighbourhood Area. The Neighbourhood Plan for All Saints, Central, South and part of Thorley will have some influence once it passes independent examination and will come into force once it has been approved at referendum. East Herts Council is planning for up to 1400 homes in this area at Bishop's Stortford South, The Goods Yard site, and east of Manor Links over the lifetime of the plan.
Why do the Neighbourhood Plans make the assumption that so many houses will be built in Bishop’s Stortford when these are not wanted by many people in the local community?
The decision to allocate housing to Bishop’s Stortford is made by East Herts District Council as part of the District Plan process and a Neighbourhood Plan must not conflict with the strategic policies in the District plan, otherwise it cannot be adopted. The District is under pressure from the government which requires District Councils to ensure a five-year supply of land for building new homes. Without this developers have even greater freedom to build. So, unless there is a change in government policy, we can be certain that more housing land will be allocated and we must work within this constraint to have any impact.
Why does the Neighbourhood Plan not simply reject the planning applications for major developments?
The Neighbourhood Plan is a policy document against which all planning applications are judged, not a response to any individual application. The assessment of individual applications is the responsibility of East Herts District Council not of the Neighbourhood Plan. Once the Plan is adopted applications will be judged against the policies in the Neighbourhood Plan together with policies in the District Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework.
What will be the review process to monitor or check future planning applications against the Neighbourhood Plan?
The Neighbourhood Plan will be used by East Herts Development Management to assess all future planning applications in the Neighbourhood Area. The policies will sit alongside those in the District Plan and in the National Planning Policy Framework when applications are approved or rejected and carry a similar level of statutory force. In addition Bishop’s Stortford Town Council, as a statutory consultee on all planning applications in the Town, will monitor the effectiveness of the policies and will have the opportunity to highlight any non-conformances when planning applications are received so that these are brought to the attention of the planning officers at the District Council.
Does this document provide support to the Town Council with their planning decisions?
Yes. The Neighbourhood Plan has been produced by the Town Council and it will be used to support comments on any planning decisions in future.
Will the Neighbourhood Plans be reviewed given that it is designed to have a life span of over 15 years?
Yes. The Neighbourhood Plans will be reviewed at five-year intervals (approximately) from their adoption until 2031 to ensure that policies are still relevant. This will be important in terms of changes in technology and other developments.
Why are some of the policies in the Neighbourhood Plan quite general in their wording?
The Neighbourhood Plan will be in force until 2031 and must cope with a wide spectrum of situations. The aim of the plan is to influence future development, not be too prescriptive in order that positive innovation is not stifled.
Why are some of the policies in the Neighbourhood Plan quite technical and difficult for the layman to understand?
The policies need to be written in a fairly technical way in places as they are designed to be used by planning professionals. A more accessible summary is available on our website at www.stortfordplan.org which outlines the vision and objectives that have informed the policy sections.
What has been left out of the Neighbourhood Plan that the Team would have liked to include?
There is nothing which is left out however there are some areas where we have had to be a little more cautious in a minority of our policies than some would ideally have liked. This is a result of the legislative constraint that the plan is ‘in general conformity with the strategic objectives of the Local Plan’ and ‘have regard to the National Planning Policy Framework’. If we fail to meet these conditions the Plan will be rejected by the examiner and all would be lost. So we have had to work within these constraints.
An aim in the Neighbourhood Plan is to protect Green Spaces like Southern Country Park or Hoggate’s Wood but with so much housing, assets such as these could be swamped. Could the Neighbourhood Plan not recognise this more emphatically as these areas need a group to look after them such as the Birchanger Wood Trust?
The Neighbourhood Plan cannot force a particular management arrangement to be established for green space or other assets as this is not as such a matter for the planning/development management system. However it sees the Southern Country Park as an example of ‘best practice’ and makes recommendations for management in the Green Infrastructure section. It places the responsibility with the developers for ensuring adequate management of green spaces for the future through an appropriate mechanism.
Why do you not tackle the chronic lack of primary health care facilities in the town? The objective for residents’ access to a GP practice will take a miracle to achieve!
The Neighbourhood Plan includes a requirement that contributions are made towards the provision of facilities for GP practices. Ultimately, the actual service provision is the responsibility of the NHS, but the role of the Neighbourhood Plan can assist the process.
Given the record of reneged promises of developers in the past, what difference will the Neighbourhood Plan make in the planning process?
The Neighbourhood Plan includes a robust set of policies. Development proposals will be assessed against these policies and, where developers must make contributions either by building essential infrastructure or by providing financial support, these contributions are legally enforceable.
What are ‘Section 106 Agreements’?
Section 106 Agreements, more properly called planning obligations, are a form of contract with developers to provide community infrastructure, financial support for community infrastructure, requiring specific operations to be done or prohibiting specific operations from being done on land. They are legally enforceable and generally used to ensure that developers make a fair contribution to the public infrastructure needed to support a development.
They are called ‘Section 106 agreements’ because they are regulated under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.