Planning magazine has reported that the Secetary of State has taken a consistent line in deciding appeals in neighbourhood plan areas.
Stephen Tapper, the POS Local & Neighbourhood Planning Specialist, told a Planning reporter that the communities secretary clearly wanted to give weight to neighbourhood plans when making appeal decisions. But he added that some cases pointed to an "overriding weight" given to the need to meet a five-year land supply of housing. Tapper said that wherea five-year land supply is absent "because councils haven't got up-to-date local plans that then is not unexpectedly taking precedence [over neighnourhood planning policies]".
Tapper said: "I think he's approaching it correctly. He is saying 'Look, I'm going to examine very carefully those cases where there's a neighbourhood plan in place, and I'm going to look at those relevant policies very carefully, and I will give weight to them - but at the end of the day, I can't let them override a situation where the local council hasn't got a five-year land supply and the site itself is one that can be - shall we say - managed satisfactorily in terms of environment andd transportation and so on."
Tapper gave the example of a decision by Clark last year to approve 39 homes on a site not allocated for development in an emerging neighbourhood plan drawn up in the Northamptonshire village of Earls Barton. Clark ruled that a five-year housing land supply shortfall should trump policies in neighbourhood plans.
Tapper continued: "The impact of that on local people is probably to make them say, 'Well why have we been bothered?' But the reality is that ... there wasn't the necessary five-year supply. That is an absolutely overriding priority for government to ensure that there is a good supply of housing coming forward. So you can understand why he made that decision."
Tapper said that neighbourhood plan policies had to be robust and well-written because "otherwise they're not going to have effect". He added: "The lesson for all local planning authoritoes is they've really got to pay more attention to the quality of the policies that are emerging in neighbourhood plans and make sure they are as good as their own policies in terms of the way they're structured and the way they're evidenced."