Decision made to prepare a Neighbourhood Plan for Fawkham
Neighbourhood Plan – Summary of Meetings held with Residents on 3rd and 10th December 2020
The purpose of the meetings was to discuss to whether residents of Fawkham think it would be a good idea to create a Neighbourhood Plan (NP) for Fawkham. As this would require a temporary increase in the parish portion of Council tax, we feel it is important to seek the views of those who will pay that.
Before we hear your views we first want to outline why we are considering creating a NHP and the potential obstacles to creating one.
So, why create a NP?
A Neighbourhood Plan is a legal document that gives a community a say in what new development looks like, what green spaces it would like to protect, and a legal say in local planning matters. It can be a powerful tool to guide future development.
The Local Plan consultations showed us the power of community engagement and what we can achieve if we work together. It also demonstrated that there is a real desire in the community to protect the Green Belt and our natural surroundings. We also realised that the responsibility to look after our village lies with us rather than Sevenoaks District Council or our then MP. This is why we think creating a NP would be a good idea.
We also carried out a village survey last year, when we asked you what you liked about living in Fawkham and what you didn’t, and we think a NP would be a good way of trying to keep what you do like about Fawkham and helping to prevent or trying to fix what you don’t. The survey also gave some suggestions for improvements, and if these were popular, then a NP may be a good way to take them forward.
After the end of local plan consultation we started to think what we could do to protect our village. Along with Hartley PC we investigated the possibility of asking to extend the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to include the Fawkham valley, but after investigation we came to conclusion that this would take 10-20 years, if it was successful, and that the only way to have a proactive impact on the future of our village was to investigate creating a NP.
As you may be aware, the Government is proposing to change the planning legislation. The white paper proposes land is put into one of three zones: for growth, for renewal or for protection. There would be agreed design codes and requirements and if a development met those it would go ahead. It means Local Planning Authorities (such as Sevenoaks District Council) would have little say in individual planning applications. It also means local residents would not be able to make comments on an application in same the way they can now. However, NPs are mentioned in the white paper on these proposals, and so these would enable local communities to continue to have a say.
Given all this we feel this is the time to look at implementing a NP, otherwise we will be too late. Due to the budget timetable set by Sevenoaks DC we need to decide now so that we could start work in the new year. If we do not decide now we will have to wait another year.
So, what are the potential obstacles to preparing a NP?
Cost – creating a NP is a large undertaking and it is costly. Although grants are available, we will need to raise some of this cost by increasing the Parish Council portion of the council tax. All five Fawkham parish councillors live in Fawkham and we understand that due to the global pandemic money is tight, and it is not the best time to be increasing council tax. We would like to hear your thoughts on this. We have erred on the side of over-estimating the cost rather than under-estimating. We hope that the increase in Council tax in the second year would not be as large as in the first year.
Time – Making a NP is a long process. It’s likely to take 12-18 months to do the bulk of the work in pulling the plan together, and then similar amount of time to go through the processes required to finalise it, which include an independent examination and a formal referendum vote by those on the electoral roll for Fawkham, with 50% saying yes required to “make” the Plan.
Resource – A NP is most successful if all of the community engages with it. Whenever we ask for help and engagement from residents we are always pleased with the response. If we go ahead with a plan, we intend to hold workshops, drop in sessions etc with residents to develop the content of the plan so it reflects what the community wants and needs. Hopefully conditions will be such that we can hold these in person at the village hall over the next year.
To develop an effective Plan we will also need help from people in the village to join various work streams. However this is a large undertaking on people’s commitment and time. We have already been talking to a couple of people who have the skills, experience, time and, most importantly, the willingness to help, though we would love it if a few more residents could join us. If you feel this is something you’d be interested in finding out more about, please do let us know, either in this meeting or afterwards.
Questions and Comments from Residents during the meetings:
1. Financial implications – Why does it look as though ours would cost £36k when other larger ones are £30-35k?
Unfortunately, the size of the Parish does not change many of the costs involved with creating a plan, although some such as printing costs, for example, would be cheaper. The grant is “up to” £10,000, and until we apply with a fully detailed cost breakdown, we will not know how much we will receive. £10,000 grant plus £24,000 gives a total of £34,000, which is within the range.
This budget includes some contingency cost, and we have erred on the side of over- estimating, rather than under-estimating. We would budget for a £12,000 increase in council tax in the first year and hope that the second year increase would be less. We estimate the first year increase would be £41 a year for Band D, or £3.42 a month.
2. How is it decided whether to prepare a Plan?
It is the Parish Council’s decision, and we will review and assess the feedback we have received, with a deadline for views of 13th December. We need to decide and submit our council tax figure to Sevenoaks for a January deadline.
3. Could we fund some of the money from some other means e.g. crowd funding?
This could be a good idea and would reduce the amount needed to be raised from council tax in the second year. It is something that could be explored, allowing those who can and want to contribute more financially to do so.
4. What sort of things would be in the plan?
That would be community-led and agreed by the steering group, with the survey results suggesting it would be likely to include: community facilities and infrastructure, housing (stock, needs, urban design), natural environment and local employment.
5. Would there be no Local Plan under the new white paper planning proposals?
The proposals would appear to very much reduce the role of a Local Planning Authority such as Sevenoaks District Council, and it would seem that Local Plans will not have as big a role in the proposed zoning system.
6. Are we a bit early developing this before the Local Plan? Spending money too soon?6.
Given the white paper proposals, we feel the time is right to start work on a NP now. As it takes time to prepare, we would not want to delay.
The first year’s costs will be mostly on gathering evidence for the plan, and the evidence will not change even if the emerging Local Plan does.
It is possible to develop a NP before a Local Plan, with discussions between the PC and SDC on the relationship between the policies in each.
7. Will Fawkham PC decide on Planning Applications if there is a Neighbourhood Plan?
No, that decision would continue to be made by Sevenoaks District Council (SDC) as the Local Planning Authority. However, their decision would need to take into account the policies in a NP, as it forms part of the statutory decision making process. Developers can only go against the policies in a NP if they can convince a Planning Enquiry that the policy should be set aside.
If the changes currently proposed by the Government go ahead, however, it seems SDC would have little say in individual planning decisions.
8. Which trumps which plan? Local or Neighbourhood?
In the same way that a Local Plan needs to conform with national planning guidance, a NP needs to conform with a Local Plan. A NP for Fawkham would go to a more granular level of detail than the Sevenoaks-wide Local Plan; it would be more specific to the circumstances of Fawkham.
9. How does the referendum vote work?
People on the electoral roll for Fawkham parish would be entitled to vote on the plan once it was prepared: one person, one vote. If more than 50% vote ‘yes’, then the plan becomes part of the statutory development plan for Sevenoaks District.
10. Is there a risk that the vote would be ‘no’?
There is that risk, however as the plan would be developed with community input it should reflect what the community wants. Only three NHPs have received an overall ‘no’ vote in a referendum, and 1,000 have been voted on.
Comments made by residents during the meetings:
- In principle, a good idea, but is it premature?
- There is a cost to inaction
- The issues that a NP would address will still come up – they won’t go away
- Some residents on low incomes may find it difficult to pay the increase in council tax
- The process itself has value
- A Neighbourhood Plan is a way for a community to come together and work on a positive action, rather than negatively objecting to proposals.
- The community would be in a much better position whatever the final format of a plan.
Initial Communication, November 2020: Fawkham Parish Council are considering preparing a Neighbourhood Plan for the village.
This would be a lengthy process and impact the village as a whole and, before we decide, we would like to hear your views. We are delivering a leaflet to all houses in the village which outlines the main points of a Neighbourhood Plan, the implications of preparing one, and how to contact us to give us your views. Please let us know what you think by December 14th.
We want to hear what you think – please let us know if you’d like us to go ahead with this.
We will hold an online Zoom meeting on 3rd December at 7.30pm to discuss the idea and answer queries and questions you may have. If you’d like to attend, please email email@example.com and we will send the password.
If you are unable to join the Zoom meeting, you can:
- Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Send us a letter addressed to The Clerk, Hillside Cottage, Castle Hill, DA3 7BQ
- Phone us on 07503 651138 to arrange a telephone conversation
- Contact us
What is a Neighbourhood Plan?
A Neighbourhood Plan sets out a community’s vision for their area and puts policies in place that will shape the future. It is a tool that gives communities statutory powers to help shape their local area.
A Neighbourhood Plan is:
- A legal document that sets out planning policies for the local area – planning policies are used to decide whether to approve planning applications
- Written by the local community, the people who know and love the area, rather than by Sevenoaks District Council
- A powerful tool to guide future development.
It is about the use and development of land, and it is up to those preparing it to decide on its scope and content. It can include a future vision for Fawkham on a range of issues which really matter to us, which could include environment, housing, community facilities, transport, heritage, recreation, open space, and employment.
Key to creating a Neighbourhood Plan is listening to the community to make sure it contains what Fawkham wants and needs: it is a community-led plan.
A Neighbourhood Plan cannot stop development: it must support the strategic needs set out in the Local Plan. This means it cannot prevent development identified in the Local Plan. The draft Local Plan allocates two housing sites in Fawkham: Fawkham Business Park with 31 units and Grange Park Farm with 32 units, although the future of that plan is currently unknown. Housing developments are also proposed at Salts Farm depot (26 units) and Fawkham Manor hospital (32 units).
It gives us a say in what new development looks like:A plan can shape and guide development by creating criteria on layout, design, materials, character, gardens and parking requirements or deciding on infrastructure priorities. This means things like the number of car-parking spaces could be linked to number of bedrooms, or having native hedges rather than fences, or a preferred mix of housing-types, such as for people downsizing and wanting to stay in Fawkham.
It allows us to say what green spaces we would like to protect:
A plan can identify areas for protection such as open spaces valued by the community or green spaces that meet Local Green Space criteria set out in national policy. This means the plan can direct development away from certain locations.
It gives us a legal say in local planning matters:
Once made, a Neighbourhood Plan will become part of the statutory development plan for Sevenoaks District Council. This statutory status is important. Developers can only go against the policies in a Neighbourhood Plan if they are able to convince a Planning Enquiry that the policy should be set aside.
During the village survey last year, you told us what you liked about living in Fawkham – and what you didn’t – and what changes you’d like to see. The findings of that have led the Parish Council to believe that a Neighbourhood Plan would be a good idea.
Preparing a Neighbourhood Plan is your chance to shape the future of Fawkham.
If you’d like to find out more about Neighbourhood Plans, you can visit: