Stage 1: defining the neighbourhood
First, local people will need to decide how they want to work together.
In areas with a town council, the town council will take the lead on neighbourhood planning. They have long experience of working with and representing local communities.
Town councils and community groups will then need to apply to the local planning authority (usually the borough or district council) to produce a neighbourhood plan.
It's the local planning authority's job to keep an overview of all the different requests to do neighbourhood planning in their area.
They will check that the suggested boundaries for different neighbourhoods make sense and fit together. The local planning authority will say no if, for example, 2 proposed neighbourhood areas overlap.
They will also check that community groups who want to take the lead on neighbourhood planning meet the right standards. The planning authority will say no if, for example, the organisation is too small or not representative enough of the local community, including residents, employers and business.
If the local planning authority decides that the community group meets the right standards, the group can call itself a 'neighbourhood forum'. (This is simply the technical term for groups which have been granted the legal power to do neighbourhood planning in a particular area.)
Stage 2: preparing the plan
Local people will need to pull together and prioritise their early ideas, and draw up their plans. This is done through a process of public engagement, meetings, forums, public workshops, questionnaires, web-sites, news bulletins, social media etc. The feedback and evidence gathered will be analysed and prioritised. Possibly, further meetings and second or third questionnaire stages may be considered relevant in order to clarify feedback. Policies will be drawn up from the information received, which reflect the wishes of the community. Clearly not all issues identified can be dealt with at the first plan release, simply for reasons of complexity, time or practicality. The planning process is not a one-shot activity, but an ongoing process of review and update. Hence issues, visions or ideas which might be considered of lesser priority can be addressed in later reviews of the plan.
They can choose to draw up either a plan, or a development order, or both.
With a neighbourhood plan, communities are able to establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood. They will be able to say, for example, where new homes and offices should be built, and what they should look like. The neighbourhood plan will set a vision for the future. It can be detailed, or general, depending on what local people want.
With a neighbourhood development order, the community can grant planning permission for new buildings they want to see go ahead. Neighbourhood development orders allow new homes and offices to be built, without the developers having to apply for separate planning permission.
It is entirely up to them. Both must follow some ground rules:
Stage 3: independent check
Once a neighbourhood plan or order has been prepared, an independent examiner will check that it meets the right basic standards.
If the plan or order doesn't meet the right standards, the examiner will recommend changes. The planning authority will then need to consider the examiner's views and decide whether to make those changes.
If the examiner recommends significant changes, then the town council may decide to consult the local community again before proceeding.
Stage 4: community referendum
The local council will organise a referendum on any plan or order that meets the basic standards. This ensures that the community has the final say on whether a neighbourhood plan or order comes into force.
People living in the neighbourhood who are registered to vote in local elections will be entitled to vote in the referendum.
If more than 50% of people voting in the referendum support the plan or order, then the local planning authority must bring it into force.
Stage 5: legal force
Once a neighbourhood plan is in force following a successful referendum, it carries real legal weight. Decision makers are obliged to consider proposals for development in the neighbourhood with reference to the neighbourhood plan.
A neighbourhood order grants planning permission for development that complies with the order. Where people have made clear that they want development of a particular type, it will be easier for that development to go ahead