Work needed to finish neighbourhood plan
Steps have been taken to help Berwick's neighbourhood plan get over the finishing line.
The plan have been three years in the making but have been held up by numerous procedural disputes.
Councillor engagement with the process has also been low and Coun Karin Graham, who stepped in to replace Eric Goodyer last year, recently resigned due to the workload.
Coun Graham said: “It’s vital we keep going with this neighbourhood plan, otherwise the county council will potentially be able to put more restrictions on us.”
The council has decided to create a neighbourhood plan sub-committee of the existing planning committee, with an equivalent number of members of the current neighbourhood plan steering group to act as voting members of the sub-committee.
Councillors rejected two other options put before them: to abandon the neighbourhood plan; and to seek a new councillor to act as chairman.
Town clerk Gareth Davies, providing a background report to councillors, stated: ‘The issue of the terms of reference of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group (NPSG) has been previously discussed. Council has previously resolved, in November 2017 to reserve to itself the sole authority to approve or reject documents, evidence or policy proposals.
‘That decision, and the fact that the town clerk felt the need to make it clear in a report to council, reflects the number of disputes that have persisted over the terms of reference of the NPSG, the desire of its members for autonomy, and the lack of clarity around the original terms of reference. This has even manifested itself in a dispute over whether the NPSG should be consulted on, or allowed to change, a report of the town clerk to council.
‘The lack of clarity around the original terms of reference and the formation of the NPSG does not reflect on anyone who participated in the process; in part at least it reflects the advice at the time from government, which was less than clear.
‘Coun Graham has now resigned as chairman of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group, and progress is required. Councillor engagement with the neighbourhood plan process has been low, and the meetings of the NPSG are not likely, in their current format to encourage participation.’
He reports that one of the disputes that has bedevilled the process is the way design codes proposed for the Neighbourhood Plan have been developed.
‘There is no dispute, now, about the need for further consultation with land owners and stakeholders to be added to the evidence base that supports the design codes, but the process of agreeing that work has resulted in persistent disputes about the meaning and basis of a report from the town clerk,’ he states.
‘In order for progress to be made there is a need to raise councillor engagement, resolve the procedural issues and thus enabling the Neighbourhood Plan to be steered to completion.
‘Since the Neighbourhood Plan was initially mooted its objectives and goals have changed significantly. Changes to the national method of assessing housing need, and the abandonment of the Northumberland Core Strategy, mean that the original intention to use housing as a regenerative tool for Berwick is not now an option, and it is proposed to merely adopt the housing target figures, (which bare a floor, not a ceiling) from the emerging Northumberland Local Plan.
‘The original intention of the plan makers was to use a series of retail policies to protect existing neighbourhood centres around Berwick. Members of the NPSG now appear to have abandoned this, and to have resolved not to have Retail Strategy at the same time as there are a number of new retail studies being undertaken in Berwick.’