At long last, the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan has passed its exams. The examiner, Mr. Richard High, appointed last October, completed his report in December. It had to be fact-checked before being finalised, which occurred just after the New Year. The report is now on Cherwell DC’s website and can be seen here.
The most important finding of the examination is that the MCNP has met the “basic conditions” required by legislation in order to proceed to referendum. In his conclusions, Mr High states that:
The preparation of a neighbourhood plan for eleven parishes and a substantial growth area is a major undertaking, in terms of the need for joint working, effective project management and the amount of research and evidence required. I have found the Plan and its supporting documents to be very clearly presented, with carefully constructed policies which, with a few exceptions, take their relationship with other development plan policies carefully into account. The use of the substantial body of supporting evidence is clearly cross-referenced. This has helped me in carrying out my examination and has meant that I have had little need to ask for any clarification of the documentation. It is also evident that there has been much joint working between the MCNP Forum and CDC and extensive consultation of other agencies.
I have found it necessary to recommend several modifications to the Plan to meet the basic conditions. Many of these incorporate the suggestions of the MCNP Forum in response to comments by CDC and other bodies. Others have required the deletion of some of the proposed Local Green Spaces. I am sure that there will be disappointment about that, but it is important to apply the criteria in the NPPF consistently. It has also been necessary to delete some policies which failed to add to Local Plan policy or addressed matters outside the scope of a neighbourhood plan.
In fact, some of the modifications to our policies recommended by Mr High have strengthened their wording to make them more straightforward to implement. In a few others, he has disallowed some of the criteria which we sought to apply, but then has permitted the deleted wording to be re-inserted in our Community Action Plan (the non-statutory part of our plan).
There are two policies which are deleted altogether. In both cases we had already been warned that they were likely to be regarded as ineligible for neighbourhood plans (which must deal only with land use matters), so we are not altogether surprised at the outcome. They are PT1: Travel Plans (part of our Transport and Traffic section) and PC:1 Developer Contributions. However, the survival of sixteen of our eighteen policies is a matter for celebration.
Other highlights are:
- All five of the proposed village settlement areas have been approved unaltered, and the limits on the numbers of new dwellings in these villages have also been accepted.
- An important policy on the impact of development on views and vistas in the neighbourhood plan area remains, albeit with some slight change to wording.
- The non-coalescence zone for Upper Heyford village has actually been extended by the examiner (replacing an area of local green space (LGS) that must be reduced in size).
- A reduction in size of one of Fritwell’s local green spaces is also required
- A total of six LGSs are deleted in Lower Heyford, Heyford Park, Steeple Aston and Kirtlington.
- Even so, 24 of the 30 LGS nominations have been approved.
- All our housing policies have survived, with only small changes.
CDC now have to formalise acceptance of the recommendations, and commence the process for referendum. We understand that voting will take place in March or April at the latest. Arrangements for the referendum are much as they would be a local election, with each parish having its polling station open, and postal voting permitted. If more than 50% of those who vote do so in favour of the Plan, it will then be adopted as part of the Development Plan for Cherwell.
As soon as the referendum process is announced, copies of the amended Neighbourhood Plan will be put online, and printed copies will be available in public places, and for parish councils and others.