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Durham County Council

The County Durham Plan process has been paused while we consider changes that are included in a recently released Government White Paper. See our latest news section for more information.

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Shaping your neighbourhood - Neighbourhood Development Plans and Orders


In the Localism Act 2011, the Government gave local communities the opportunity to develop a neighbourhood plan for their local area - to have a say on what new developments are allowed. Find out more about the neighbourhood plans already in place in County Durham, the process to set one up and how to get involved in shaping one for your area.

Current Neighbourhood Plan consultations

For further information on current consultations please see our Neighbourhood Plan submissions web page.

What are Neighbourhood Plans?

Neighbourhood planning can be taken forward by town and parish councils. In non-parished areas, this function can be carried out by creating a 'Neighbourhood Forum' to carry out this role. The criteria for establishing Neighbourhood Forums will be simplified to encourage new and existing residents' organisations, voluntary and community groups to put themselves forward.

Neighbourhood Forums and parish councils can use the neighbourhood planning powers to establish general planning policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood. These are described legally as 'Neighbourhood Development Plans.' In an important change to the planning system, communities can use neighbourhood planning to permit the development they want to see, in full or in outline, without the need for planning applications. These are called 'Neighbourhood Development Orders.'

Neighbourhood Plans must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan rather than contradictory to them.

Defining a neighbourhood area and defining a neighbourhood forum

The regulations require neighbourhood areas to be defined as the first part of the process and the council has specific roles to carry out when a relevant body submits an application to us. The regulations also guide how an application for a neighbourhood forum should be dealt with. The two processes are very similar so the approach below applies to both, with the slight variations highlighted.

The formal procedure and what is required to apply to declare a Neighbourhood Area and a Neighbourhood Forum is covered in greater detail in the Neighbourhood Planning (General) Regulations (2012).

How are Neighbourhood Plans and Development orders approved?

Neighbourhood Development Plans and Neighbourhood Development Orders do not take effect unless there is a majority of support in a referendum of the neighbourhood. They also have to meet a number of conditions before they can be put to a community referendum and legally come into force. These conditions are to ensure plans are legally compliant and take account of wider policy considerations (for example, national policy). The conditions are:

  1. They must have regard to national planning policy.
  2. They must be in general conformity with strategic policies in the development plan for the local area.
  3. They must be compatible with EU obligations and human rights requirements.

An independent qualified person will check that a Neighbourhood Development Plan, or order, meets these conditions before it can be voted on in a local referendum. This is to make sure that referendums only take place when proposals are workable and of a decent quality.

Proposed Neighbourhood Development Plans and Orders need to gain the approval of a majority of voters of the neighbourhood to come into force. If proposals pass the referendum, the local planning authority is under a legal duty to bring them into force.

Community right to build

The Localism Act allows community organisations to bring forward a 'community right to build order', which is a type of Neighbourhood Development Order. This allows certain community organisations to bring forward smaller-scale development on a specific site, without the need for planning permission.

This gives communities the freedom to develop things like small-scale housing and other facilities that they want. Any benefit from this development stays within the community to be used for the community's benefit, for example, to maintain affordable housing stock or to provide and maintain local facilities such as playgrounds and village halls.

Community right to build orders are subject to a limited number of exclusions, such as proposals needing to fall below certain thresholds so that an Environmental Impact Assessment is not required. Proposals are subject to testing by an independent person and a community referendum.