Ropley Neighbourhood Plan – village wide Public Referendum.

After four years of questionnaires, consultations and meetings, the Ropley Neighbourhood Plan is approaching its final hurdle – the village wide Public Referendum.

Since approval for the draft Neighbourhood Plan to be submitted to EHDC was given by the Parish Council at its December 2018 meeting, the process has been controlled by EHDC according to the Neighbourhood Planning legislation. This required verification by EHDC that the draft plan is in conformance with the local plan, followed by a 6 week public consultation which took place between 14th December 2018 and 25th January 2019 and which attracted 20 responses from statutory consultees, developers and their agents, local residents and other organisations. As required by legislation, an independent examiner was selected by the Parish Council from a list of qualified examiners provided by the Royal Institute of Charted Surveyors (RICS), and then appointed by EHDC. The examiner selected by the Parish Council was chosen for his extensive experience, having examined more than 70 Neighbourhood Plans, many in similarly rural areas. The examiner is required to ensure that the proposed plan meets all the legal requirements set out by the Neighbourhood Planning legislation and to consider the representations made during the consultations. The examiner was provided with the draft plan and the required supporting evidence as well as the public comments submitted during both the village consultation and the EHDC consultation. The examination started in February 2019 and completed in April 2019.

The examination resulted in changes being requested to the plan to meet the requirements of the legislation and national planning policy. The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group under delegated authority of the Parish Council reviewed the requested changes. Our retained planning consultant also reviewed the examination report and commented:

“… Frankly I think the plan has emerged from the examination pretty much unscathed and some of his changes are improvements. The modifications will not change the outcome of the plan. Some LGSs may not have been demonstrated as demonstrably special, but the land cannot be built on as it is outside the SPB.”

It is important to understand that at this stage there were limited choices available – the Steering Group could either accept a change, remove an entire policy containing the requested change, or remove the entire Neighbourhood Plan – the requested changes were not negotiable. The Steering Group took the view that the changes, while not desirable, were acceptable in order to deliver the overall benefits of the plan. The significant changes are as follows:

  • The policy covering gaps between settlements has been modified to reflect the national planning guidance to adopt a positive approach to development. The original RNP1 policy in the plan submitted to EHDC provided a map with settlement and coalescence gaps defined along field, path and road boundaries, and prohibited development within those gaps. The examiner found that some of these gaps were too large in size and required that the policy be changed such that “Development proposals should ensure the retention of the open character …” between settlements. While this is less precise than a map based policy, the intention of the plan to prevent the merging of adjacent settlements is preserved. In addition development in many of the areas originally covered by the settlement and coalescence maps will still be prevented by their inclusion in areas covered by RNP3 that protects vistas and areas of visual prominence.
  • Three of the five areas proposed as Local Green Spaces were removed from the plan. The spaces removed were LGS2 – the field behind Vicarage Lane between the Recreation Ground and Ropley House, LGS3 – the field to the west of School Lane and Church Lane, and LGS5 – the field to the south of Vicarage Lane and to the west of Hammonds Lane. The examiner felt that the plan had failed to show that these three spaces were “demonstrably special to a local community and holds a particular local significance” as required by the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF). While this is disappointing to the Steering Group and to many residents, the three areas removed are outside the village settlement policy boundaries and are covered by JCS policy CP19 that protects against development in the countryside. In addition, development of the proposed LGS2 and LGS3 would again be prevented by their inclusion in areas covered by RNP3 that protects vistas and areas of visual prominence.

There were also a number of less significant changes to the plan. These can be seen by either reading the Examiners Report or the EHDC Decision Statement, both of which can be found at the link given below.

In considering the revised plan, it is important to remember that the Neighbourhood Plan and district-wide Local Plan work in concert. The Neighbourhood Plan cannot conflict with the Local Plan or national policy, and so the Neighbourhood Plan provides a Ropley specific superset of policies. Should the forthcoming referendum reject the plan it would remove all the additional protections provided by the Neighbourhood Plan, while acceptance of the plan will result in 22 locally based policies becoming incorporated into EHDC planning rules, providing Ropley with the environment it chose through the 2015 village questionnaire.

Full details of the changes are contained in the Examiners Report, which can be found, together with the Referendum Issue of the Neighbourhood Plan, supporting documentation from the examination and details of the referendum on the EHDC web site by following this link:

http://www.easthants.gov.uk/ropley-neighbourhood-plan

As with the earlier public consultations on the Neighbourhood Plan, hard copies will be available for inspection at the Ropley Courtyard village shop, Alresford library and Boundaries and Mansfield Park surgeries.

We have considered holding a meeting to discuss the revised plan, but as the Steering Group is a sub-committee of the Parish Council, we have been told that this would contravene the regulations that govern local authority publicity during election campaigns, otherwise known as “purdah”.

The referendum will be held on Thursday 11th July and is very similar in form to the District Council elections that took place in May. You will shortly receive polling cards, you can apply for postal or proxy votes, and voting will take place in the village hall from 7am until 10pm. The question on the voting form will be “Do you want East Hampshire District Council to use the Neighbourhood plan for Ropley to help it decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area?”, and offers a “Yes” or “No” response.

The referendum will be counted and the result announced in the village hall after the poll closes at 10pm on 11th July. Anybody who wants to observe the count should make an application to the Counting Officer at the Electoral Services department of EHDC by 5pm on Wednesday 3 July. The application should state whether the person is connected with any campaign linked to the referendum.

While the changes made to the plan as a result of the examination are not desirable, the Steering Group feel that the plan retains much of the protection originally proposed, and that the village will be enhanced by having an adopted Neighbourhood Plan.

Charles Louisson
on behalf of Ropley Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group