On Thursday, a referendum on the Alnwick and Denwick Neighbourhood Plan is taking place when residents have the opportunity to decide if the policies in the plan should be used by Northumberland County Council to help it decide planning applications in Alnwick and Denwick.
Alnwick Town Council is the body responsible for preparing the plan and it appointed a steering group to work on it with professional planning support from Peter Biggers, a town planning consultant who lives and works in Alnwick.
Here Peter responds to some common questions on the plan to provide some background to the referendum and why it is important to turn out to vote next Thursday.
What is a neighbourhood plan and why do we have to vote about it?
The Government introduced neighbourhood plans in 2012 so that local communities could play a direct part in shaping the future of their towns and villages.
So the plan is a real opportunity for the community to take control of their own future.
Preparing the plan has involved the community on many occasions at different stages.
The referendum is the final decider and if more than 50 per cent of those turning out vote to support the plan, it must be adopted by the county council and used in planning decisions.
What advantages will it bring to Alnwick and Denwick?
Since local government reorganisation and the end of Alnwick District Council, the local community’s influence on planning decisions has been much reduced.
The neighbourhood plan is the opportunity for residents to put in place policies that will shape how Alnwick and Denwick develops and changes in the years up to 2031.
Based on input from local people, we have prepared a very comprehensive plan that covers a lot of ground.
It would be some years before the county council could get round to developing this amount of detailed guidance for Alnwick and Denwick.
Some of the detailed policies in the plan, for example, on heritage, design and the environment give detailed policy control to ensure development that takes place is right for Alnwick and Denwick.
What powers will the plan convey?
Most importantly, the plan has teeth. It will form part of the development plan for the county if it passes the referendum stage.
This means that it will be used as the basis for making decisions on planning applications in the area, not just by the county council, but by planning inspectors considering appeals in the town.
Planning proposals must be in accordance with the plan otherwise they should not be approved. As we have taken the opportunity to identify and allocate land in the plan for housing and business development sufficient for the community’s needs up to 2031, we should be in a strong position to resist other development proposals unless there are very special reasons why more development should be accepted.
Have other communities in Northumberland adopted neighbourhood plans?
Yes, they have. Although Alnwick was a front-runner with its neighbourhood plan, we are not the first to reach referendum stage. Both Allendale and Morpeth have already been through this stage and have their plans in place.
Why has it taken so long to produce the Alnwick and Denwick Plan?
Yes, it has taken a while. Part of the reason for this is the comprehensive nature of the plan – some neighbourhood plans have been much more restricted in what they have tried to achieve and therefore have been quicker to prepare.
Another aspect is that the plan has been largely prepared by volunteers working in their own time, not by paid professionals.
The last point is that we had a difficult examination stage on the plan which involved a lot of modifications and then reconsulting before it was ready for the referendum. We lost over a year in this way.
The plan contains a number of Community Action Proposals, which are not part of the vote. Can you explain what these are?
Neighbourhood plans are quite closely controlled by regulation and can only deal with matters relating to the development and use of land.
We asked the local community back at the start what issues they felt were important to the town and many of the replies related to matters which we knew the plan could not directly influence. The town council, however, did not want to be seen to simply ignore these and so, for those things where the plan cannot directly influence, we have prepared a number of Community Action Proposals.
These sit alongside the policies of the Plan and in many respects will help to achieve the plan’s vision and aims.
Will you be voting next week?
I certainly will. You don’t spend the significant amount of time the steering group and I have spent on the plan and not turn out.
I will be urging all my friends and contacts to vote and I would urge everyone eligible to vote to do so on June 15, even if they don’t feel it is important for themselves – do it for the future of your home community.
• Residents who are over 18 and registered to vote in local council elections and who live in the parishes of Alnwick and Denwick will be able to vote.
Four polling stations will be in operation for the referendum – Willowburn Sports Centre, Alnwick North Community Centre, Lindisfarne Sports Centre and Denwick Village Hall.
The ballot paper will contain a single question – Do you want Northumberland County Council to use the neighbourhood plan for Alnwick and Denwick to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?
For more information and to read the plan, visit http://www.alnwick-and-denwick-plan.org.uk/
Some concerns about proposals on greenfield sites
Concerns have been raised by some residents about the allocations of housing on greenfield sites in Alnwick.
As the plan has to provide areas where housing can be accommodated, it is not possible simply to restrict where new homes can be built, areas designated for housing must be allocated.
Following the Willowburn Park development at Greensfield, there are only two other areas of any size that a site assessment identified as being available, developable and deliverable – land east of Allerburn Lea (up to 270 homes) and land to the south of Ravensmount (up to 70 homes), both accessed off Alnmouth Road.
In the submission draft, the policy said that ‘priority will be given in the first five years of the plan to the development of previously developed land in the town for housing including the Duchess’s High School site once the site is vacated’.
However, during independent examination, the inspector recommended removing this as it ‘fails to provide clarity for potential applicants’.
Copies of the supporting maps and of the examiners report can be found on the county-council website – http://tinyurl.com/y7sc3oba