The Cold Ash Parish Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) has progressed to the next stage with West Berkshire Council (WBC), with the submission of our draft document for what is known as ‘Screening’. Screening is a step in the process where WBC informally reviews our NDP and submits it to several regulatory bodies (Historic England, Natural England and the Environment Agency). The aim of the exercise is for the regulatory bodies to assess the potential impact our NDP may have on their areas of interest, and determine whether there’s need for further, more detailed, assessments. Those assessments that could be required are, a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) and/or a Habitat Regulation Assessment (HRA).
The submission of our NDP to WBC threw up a fundamental question for WBC, around the allocation of sites within a settlement boundary. For information, we have 4 settlement boundaries, either wholly or in part, within Cold Ash Parish. These are:
- Cold Ash village
- Ashmore Green village
- Thatcham (part)
- Newbury (part)
We had been allocated 40 dwellings by WBC, for which we had to agree the most appropriate site(s). To do this, we developed our policies, from which we derived a set of Site Assessment Criteria (SAC). We used the SAC to assess the sites that had been submitted to WBC; they had carried out a first pass assessment based on their strategic criteria (WBC’s strategic assessment is known as the Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment – HELAA). Using the SAC, we identified that the best fit site was the area that currently houses Sims Metal Management and J Passey & Sons, which is off Waller Drive (the sites is known in the HELAA as CA10). This site, whilst being predominantly in Cold Ash Parish, also sits within the Newbury settlement boundary. Therefore, the question around settlement site boundaries had the potential to significantly impact on our NDP in a negative way.
As a result of the new information, members of the NDP Steering Committee met with Bryan Lyttle (WBC – Planning Policy Manager) and members of his team. From the negotiations we were able to agree that, as our preferred site (CA10) is expected to deliver a number of dwellings in line with our target of 40, and as a planning application has already been submitted for the site, that WBC would accept this as proxy for our target and reduce our NDP allocation to zero. This has several benefits for the Cold Ash NDP:
- WBC accepts the risk that site CA10 doesn’t deliver the target 40 dwellings
- As Cold Ash NDP will become non-allocating, it’s highly likely that we will not need to carry out either a Strategic Environment Assessment or a Habitat Regulation Assessment. This has the potential to save us between 6 months and a year, on our timeline
WBC apologised for the additional work we have incurred in developing our NDP. We, however, do not see this as an issue, as it has been a good discipline to understand all the HELAA sites within our parish and to have assessed them based on whether they meet the preferences articulated by our parishioners.
So, you may wonder what the benefit is of enacting a NDP is if we’re not allocating sites for development. The Steering Committee has reviewed this and confirm that there are still significant benefits for our parish. These are:
- Our NDP would become part of the West Berkshire Local Plan. This means our policies must be considered on any proposed development in the parish. This is different from our Village Design Statement (VDS), which has served us well for over 20 years, as the VDS only contained ‘guidelines’, which didn’t have to be taken into consideration.
- We will continue to set our policies in line with our parishioner’s desires for the parish, against which all future development would be judged. This means that we will be able to interact more effectively with WBC, supporting development that is in line with our policies and challenging that which is not.
- We currently receive a proportion of the monies that developers pay to WBC for each site (this is known as CIL money). The money is designed to cover the cost of mitigating any adverse impact of the development, through fixing or enhancing infrastructure and/or facilities. At present WBC manages and allocates 90% of CIL money and Cold Ash Parish Council (CAPC) allocates the other 10%. When we enact a NDP that ratio will change, with CAPC receiving 25% of the CIL money. We will, therefore, have more money within our control, to use on local projects
We, CAPC, believe that the change agreed with WBC places us in a much more advantageous position, as it should reduce the complexity in developing our NDP, speed up the process and still deliver the main benefits from enacting an NDP.
We should be in a strong position to move our NDP forward in the New Year, as we will have received the results of both the Screening and parishioner feedback from the open day.
Chair of Cold Ash NDP Steering Committee