Decision Maker: Officer Delegated Decision
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: Yes
Is subject to call in?: No
That the neighbourhood plan area, as proposed by Knowlton Group Parish Council, be designated.
Scheme of delegation
Under the Officer Scheme of Delegation (April 2019), the Executive Director of Place has the power (138) “To undertake all action in relation to any function of the Council concerning neighbourhood planning” including the power to make a final determination as to whether to designate a neighbourhood plan area and/or make such an area a business area.
This power only applies, however, when there is insufficient time to have the matter considered by the relevant committee as part of the normal committee cycle; the Council is legally obliged to approve the designation; and/or there has been no objection to the proposal submitted to the Council within any relevant time for the submission of representations which has not been withdrawn.
The Local Scheme of Nomination sets out which functions have been nominated by the Executive Director of Place and any conditions or limitations. This includes the power ‘to designate neighbourhood plan areas (where the Council must exercise its powers to designate the specified area applied for as a neighbourhood plan area) and neighbourhood forums’. The only condition/limitation is that the ‘Ward members and the relevant Portfolio Holder being informed’.
The Neighbourhood Planning (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 introduces Regulation 6A which requires the authority to determine an area application within 13 weeks from the date immediately following that on which the application was first published. As the Wimborne St Giles Area application was first published on 1 April 2021, 13 weeks has now elapsed, and the Council must now exercise its powers to designate the specified area applied for as a neighbourhood plan area. The conditions within the Officer Scheme of Delegation / Local Scheme of Nomination have now been met and a decision should be made without delay.
A proposed Wimborne St Giles Neighbourhood Area has been submitted by Knowlton Group Parish Council and unusually for a Neighbourhood Area has largely ignored parish boundaries in favour of landownership and community proximity centred on the village of Wimborne St Giles.
When the proposed area is overlaid against parish boundaries, the Neighbourhood Area includes a large portion of the parish of Wimborne St Giles (but not completely), omits the majority of the three other parishes within the group parish (Woodlands, Horton & Chalbury) and includes small areas of two other neighbourhood parishes (Cranborne and Edmondsham Parish Council and Vale of Allen Parish Council) with their consent.
As part of the designation process a minimum 6-week consultation period is required where the proposed area does not align with a parish boundary, in order to give interested parties the opportunity to make comments. The proposal was subject to consultation, held between the 1st April to 19th May 2021, a period of six weeks.
At the close of consultation ten responses had been received, largely from statutory bodies highlighting their areas of specialism and the guidance or support they can offer the Neighbourhood Plan group. The ward member Cllr Tooke has lent his support. The Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership however expressed concerns with the proposed area and advised on an alternative boundary, discussed under ‘alternative options considered’ below.
As a valid application has been received from Knowlton Group Parish Council, the Council must designate a neighbourhood area.
Generally, in parished areas, the parish boundary is considered to be the most appropriate boundary for a neighbourhood area. However, provision is made for groups of parishes or other areas to be designated as a neighbourhood area if consent is gained from the parish councils to be included. In this instance, consent has been given by Cranborne and Edmondsham Parish Council and Vale of Allen Parish Council for the inclusion of their areas.
The Cranborne Chase AONB Partnership has outlined in detail some of their concerns with the proposed area which unusually does not align with existing parish boundaries. The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group has explained that the proposed area better reflects the proximity of their local community and that of a major landowner in the parish, the Shaftebsury Estate. They argue that parish boundaries are in many ways artificial and that the communities within the group parish omitted have not expressed any desire to join with the project which is aiming to deliver specific proposals centred on Wimborne St Giles.
Although there are some planning and administrative advantages with aligning with existing parish boundaries, as advocated by the Cranborne Chase AONB Partnership, there is no reason why an alternative area cannot be taken forward, where all the parish councils concerned agree. On this basis it is recommended that the area proposed by Knowlton Group Parish Council, be approved.
Cranborne Chase AONB Partnership concerns
The representation from the Cranborne Chase AONB Partnership sought a more detailed explanation as to why the boundary of the proposed Neighbourhood Area has been drawn where it is, why it only includes parts of parishes, and why other parts of those parishes have been excluded. The AONB Partnership requested a statement to be publicly available and an extension to the consultation. The Partnership also highlighted the fact the proposed area is located within the Cranborne Chase AONB where scale and extent of development should be limited and that much of the area is of considerable historic interest, being encircled by the Registered Historic Park and Garden associated with Wimborne St Giles House. The representation also notes the exclusion of the historic site at Knowlton and that the area is sparsely populated.
Given these concerns a meeting was held on the 28 June 2021 between Richard Burden (Cranborne Chase AONB Partnership), Nick Cardnell (Dorset Council) and four members of the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group including Lord Shafesbury as a steering group member and major landowner.
At the meeting Mr Burden outlined the Partnership’s concerns regarding the proposed Neighbourhood Area and their preference for the area to be based on existing parish boundaries potentially including all four of the parishes within the Knowlton Group. The Partnership’s experience elsewhere is that there can be advantages for groups who draw a wider area on existing parish units. For example, where development proposals are promoted on sites not because they are the best location but simply because the neighbourhood area has been drawn in such a way that the site is the only realistic option given the constraint of the boundary.
At any early stage in plan making it is also not possible to know for certain what types of policies will emerge and therefore a smaller designated area may limit the scope of some policies. An example was given which highlighted how the Cranborne Chase AONB is a designated International Dark Sky Reserve and any dark skies policy would apply equally across the extent of the AONB area and, therefore, by reducing the boundary of the neighbourhood area you are reducing the coverage of any policy and potentially creating gaps in coverage. This can be important for light sources outside the area and for funding bids more generally.
Mr Burden also highlighted community advantages with a wider Plan area that considered issues related to the communities within the other parishes of the group parish. It was noted that the proposed Wimborne St Giles Neighbourhood Plan was seeking to take forward previous proposals intended for the former East Dorset Local Plan and that although community involvement had already identified some development opportunities, the neighbourhood plan process is different and may identify a wider range of issues. Some specific farms on the edge of the boundary were also queried by their exclusion.
In response, the Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group members explained that the proposed area was drawn on the basis of significant early consultation within their community. They considered parish boundaries to be artificial units that in themselves were often illogical for planning purposes and that it was better for the plan area to focus on the community that was taking forward proposals. The proposed area is centred on the village which has a large rural periphery and is uniquely in the ownership of a single landowner, the Shaftesbury Estate. This is advantageous as all land options are at least available and in most cases deliverable.
Lord Shaftebury was clear that it was not an Estate led plan and that all proposals would be considered and refined with community backing. Other members of the steering group agreed with this statement. As a result of their own early consultation they were not aware of any of the other communities within the wider group parish having specific planning projects or issues that would warrant a Plan. There had been no volunteers from these other parishes. They were also mindful of their own resources which were considered sufficient for a focused Plan for which they were proposing but if the scope of the Plan was widened as suggested could easily become unmanageable.
They also explained that the primary purpose of the Plan was to take forward ideas originally proposed for inclusion in the East Dorset Local Plan but because of the unitary council proposal has been put on hold for two years. They were keen to focus their energy on this scheme as a defined project. These original proposals were to regenerate redundant farm buildings, revitalise the village with new homes for families including the Alms House concept that was already central to the character of the village. Proposals would be spread organically through the village to protect the privacy of existing residents. The village has had very little development for a long time, and it is hoped new development will support the school and even allow the pub to reopen.
The farms referenced on the edge of the proposal were not within the Estate’s control and looked towards other villages for their local amenities. The village lies in a valley that has a strong feeling of self-containment.
The meeting concluded with the intention that Dorset Council would make a final decision.
On the 8 July 2021 the Cranborne Chase AONB Partnership wrote back to Dorset Council to thank Officers for arranging the meeting with representatives of the Parishes of Wimborne St Giles. The Partnership recognised the frustrations the Parish Councillors and landowner had owing to the pausing of the review of the East Dorset Local Plan Review and the criteria for villages in the emerging Dorset Council Local Plan. Their letter however argued that that the proposed Neighbourhood Plan area, which includes small elements of other parishes, is somewhat contrived and in doing so omits some important areas. Their letter also noted that limiting the Neighbourhood Plan to parts of parishes also means that positive environmental protection and good lighting policies that protect the International Dark Sky Reserve are not applied to all parts of a parish.
The Partnership concede that there is, however, logic in using the AONB boundary as the limit for those parishes that extend outside of the AONB. It would be justifiable to treat the AONB boundary as the extent of a Neighbourhood Plan area within a parish, so that policies particularly relevant to the AONB apply. Having parts of a parish that are in the AONB treated differently in a Neighbourhood Plan seems to weaken the neighbourhood planning process.
The letter concludes that the Partnership does, therefore, continue to advise that all parts of the parishes involved in the potential Wimborne St Giles Neighbourhood Plan that are within the AONB boundary should be included within the Neighbourhood Plan area.
Section 61H of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as amended by the Localism Act 2011, requires that when designating a neighbourhood area, a local planning authority should consider whether the area concerned should be designated as a ‘business area’. If a business area is designated, local businesses would have the opportunity to be more involved in the formation of the neighbourhood plan and would get an opportunity to vote (alongside registered electors) in the later referendum on whether the neighbourhood plan should come into force. However, this section of the Act also makes it clear that a neighbourhood area should only be designated as a business area if it is ‘wholly or predominantly business in nature’.
Wimborne St Giles is a small village with significant areas of open countryside encompassed by the working land of the Shaftesbury Estate and in this context, it is not considered appropriate to designate the neighbourhood area as a business area.
Publication date: 16/07/2021
Date of decision: 15/07/2021