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Step 4: Generating options for your draft Neighbourhood Plan

What different types of development or ways of using land would benefit your community?

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It can be tempting to launch straight into preparing your draft Neighbourhood Plan. And you may think you already know what needs to happen. However, there are often choices to be made.

If your local planning authority has advised you that your Neighbourhood Plan requires a Sustainability Appraisal, you will need to consider different options to include in the plan (also known as 'reasonable alternatives' in a Sustainability Appraisal). Even if your Neighbourhood Plan does not require Sustainability Appraisal, the consideration of different options can help you decide what works well and what doesn't, and to gather people's views on which option they would prefer to see happen.

Types of option

Options can be generated from ideas developed by the parish or town council, by the neighbourhood forum, or from other consultation exercises that you may have held involving the wider community. If you have developed a vision and/or objectives, you may wish to see which options are most likely to achieve them.

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Two rural parishes in Northumberland propose more affordable housing, a new high school and education campus in their Neighbourhood Plan

The sort of options you want to consider could vary depending upon the type of Neighbourhood Plan that you are preparing, for example whether it is general and broad-brush, or narrow and detailed. Examples of types of options include:

  • The scale, type, mix and location of development (e.g. if a need for affordable housing has been identified - where might it be located, how many houses or flats are needed, and should the scheme also include market housing, the provision of community facilities, space for businesses, and open space for recreation, play areas and wildlife).
  • Alternative ways of using land that the local community has identified as being appropriate for development or other uses such as open space, tree planting or environmental improvement.
  • Different 'conditions' that might be applied to development, such as how development should look (its design), how transport issues should be incorporated, or what standards to include with respect to issues such as renewable energy, landscaping and the inclusion of waste and recycling facilities.

Top tip

When considering options it is recommended that you include a 'do nothing' option (also known as 'business as usual'). This being what would happen to the plan area and sites in question if a Neighbourhood Plan were not to be prepared (e.g. by relying on Local Plan policies).

You may need to generate a series of options for dealing with different issues. The number of options that you will generate is likely to be influenced by the intended scope of your Neighbourhood Plan:

  • If your Neighbourhood Plan is dealing with a single site, then there may be just two or three options you feel you need to consider for that site.
  • If the Neighbourhood Plan covers a large area, and aims to address the whole of the neighbourhood in a comprehensive way, there may be a number of options, grouped around issues and topics.
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The Community Infrastructure Levy may help fund projects in your Neighbourhood Plan - talk to your local plans team to find out more

When considering options, it's important that they are realistic and achievable. If you have aspirations for a new children's play area, for example, how might this be delivered and who would pay for it? If you believe there is a need for more affordable housing in your community, is there a housing association or a key landowner that you could have initial discussions with to help identify appropriate sites?

In developing your options it is advisable that you check them against the strategy and policies in the Local Plan to ensure that there are no major conflicts. It may also be sensible to ask the local planning authority if your options are reasonable, and also to check whether there are any issues in the technical work that they have carried out in connection with the Local Plan that ought to be taken into account. This might include, for example, a survey of local housing need.

Test the options

If you are undertaking a Sustainability Appraisal it can play an important role in helping to test your options. See pp.49-52 of this guide for further information.

Having defined your options, you may find it helpful to consult on the findings to help inform your final choice. At a minimum, the options you have identified should be considered by the parish or town council, or by the full neighbourhood forum.

Top tip

Questions you might ask when testing your options include:

  • Have we identified the right options?
  • Are there any options that we should have thought of that are missing?
  • Which option(s) do you prefer and why?

This will help to reinforce the sense of involvement and ownership in the final Neighbourhood Plan. The local planning authority may be able to provide officers to help facilitate this process.

NextStep 5: Preparing your draft Neighbourhood Plan