As a result of the Regulation 16 consultation which ended on 20th December (see here the earlier article describing this), there were 46 responses of which 15 were about employment land, 13 from local residents regarding housing, seven from Statutory Consultees and 11 from landowners/developers. They have been published on HDC’s website and can be found here (look under heading Examination).

Since the completion of this consultation, HDC have contracted out some of their Neighbourhood Plan work to the South Downs National Park Authority which has inevitably led to some slight delays. However, an Examiner has been appointed to carry out the examination of the plan and has made an independent visit to the Parish. He has received all of the responses and, as part of the examination, has requested further information through the issue of a Clarification Notice which both the Steering Group, on behalf of the Parish Council, and HDC have just responded to. You can download both responses here.

The Examiner’s initial comment was that the Plan provides a clear vision for the neighbourhood area. It is thorough and comprehensive and is underpinned by an extensive evidence base with the difference between the policies and the supporting text very clear. He also commended the Sustainability Appraisal so these are encouraging comments following a great deal of work over what has become a long period of time.

Once the Examiner has concluded his work, if he considers the Plan meets the Basic Conditions, then subject to any minor modifications he considers necessary and any recommendations, it can go forward to referendum of those living in the Plan area.

In normal circumstances, a referendum would be held a few months after being given the go ahead by the HDC. Unfortunately, as a consequence of the current Covid-19 outbreak, Regulations linked to the Coronavirus Act 2020 mean that no elections or referendums can take place until 6 May 2021. This includes neighbourhood planning referendums. These provisions will be kept under review and may be amended or revoked in response to changing circumstances.

The Government appreciates this will be frustrating for communities that have dedicated significant time and effort to the neighbourhood planning process and naturally want their plans to come into force as soon as possible. With this in mind, they have updated current planning guidance to set out that neighbourhood plans awaiting referendums can be given significant weight in decision-making.

This potentially long delay in holding our referendum is of course very disappointing but at least once the Plan is ready for referendum, it will carry more weight than would otherwise be the case. We will provide updates when appropriate but in the meantime, thanks for your continued support of the Plan.

Ray Osgood, Chairman Henfield Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group.