Allocating sites for development is one of the most powerful aspects of neighbourhood planning, but it is essential that the evidence backs up the proposed site allocation policies. The tips below are some of the key things to look out for when carrying out a site assessment for a neighbourhood plan.
Preparation is key
There is plenty of useful guidance on carrying out neighbourhood plan site assessments, including guidance provided by some local planning authorities (LPA). Make sure the approach to the site assessment is appropriate for the context and agreed with the neighbourhood planning group first. It will need to be adapted to the circumstances and should take account of what the group is trying to do, what information already exists (through the LPA’s evidence base or work already carried out by the group) and, crucially, what the strategic policies of the local plan (both adopted and emerging) are for the neighbourhood area. It is also important to understand the development needs of the neighbourhood area to understand the scale of development the site allocations will aim to accommodate.
Include all known sites
Before launching in to a detailed appraisal of the sites that a neighbourhood planning group has identified, first check that there aren’t other sites that should be included that have been missed e.g. sites identified by the LPA in a Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA or SHLAA) or live planning applications. It is also useful to do a neighbourhood plan ‘Call for Sites’ to allow local landowners, residents and businesses to submit sites for consideration. You don’t need to own the land to submit a site!
Make sure the assessment is consistent
Regardless of the number of sites to be assessed, consistency is key. Ideally the same person or group of people should complete desktop site appraisals and site surveys for all sites, to ensure the same approach is taken. A list of criteria to assess the sites against should be drawn up first and ideally checked with the LPA. Sites should be visited in person. The information should be clearly recorded and the same data sources and survey method should be used for each site.
Make sure the assessment is objective
The assessment of sites should be based on factual data and professional judgement. Where landowners or the neighbourhood planning group have provided information on particular sites or expressed a preference for some sites over others, this should not influence the assessment of the site. The conclusion for each site should be clearly stated and reference made to the reasons for the conclusion.
Make sure the site allocations are really supported by the evidence
The site assessment process will usually narrow down the options to a list of sites which are ‘suitable, available and achievable’ for the development proposed; other sites which are ‘potentially suitable, available and achievable’, and sites that are not currently ‘developable’ and therefore not appropriate for allocation. The final sites selected for allocation should be based on the results of the site assessment, any further work carried out to resolve any issues or uncertainties, but also consultation with the community and the LPA. A check should be made that there is clear justification for why certain sites have been selected and that the reasons for not selecting other sites can be robustly defended.
Una McGaughrin is associate director at consultancy AECOM