The Government has announced a few changes to neighbourhood planning guidance in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It says: 'The Government has been clear that all members of society are required to adhere to guidance to help combat the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The guidance has implications for neighbourhood planning including: the referendum process; decision-making; oral representations for examinations; and public consultation. This planning guidance supersedes any relevant aspects of current guidance on neighbourhood planning until further notice.'
Referendums: All neighbourhood planning referendums that have been recently cancelled, or are scheduled to take place, between 16 March 2020 and 5 May 2021 are postponed in line with the Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulations 2020 until 6 May 2021.
Decision-making: Where the local planning authority has issued a decision statement (as set out under Regulation 25 of the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012) detailing its intention to send a neighbourhood plan to referendum, that plan can be given significant weight in decision-making, so far as the plan is material to the application.
Examinations: The general rule remains that examinations should be conducted by written representations. If an examiner considers that oral representations are necessary, these should not take place in person. Where feasible, oral representations may still take place using video conferencing or other suitable technologies.
Public consultation: Neighbourhood planning groups or local planning authorities intending to undertake public consultation and notification (as set out under Regulation 14 and Regulation 16 respectively of the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations 2012) should consider the government’s current guidance on staying at home and away from others or any superseding guidance.
Local communities can choose to set planning policies through a neighbourhood plan that forms part of the development plan used in determining planning applications, including the granting of planning permission through Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders for specific development, which complies with the order. Neighbourhood planning is not a legal requirement but a right which communities in England can choose to use.
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