On 20 August 2020, Horsham District Council published the Decision Statement for the Southwater Neighbourhood Plan. The full document can be read at on their website here. The decision is set out in Section 3 and reads:
Having considered the recommended modifications made by the Examiner’s Report, and the reasons for them, Horsham District Council, with the consent of SPC has considered each of the recommendations and agreed the action to take in response to each recommendation. It was decided to accept the majority the modifications made to the draft plan by the Examiner under paragraph 12(2)(4) of Schedule 4B to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. Some minor amendments to the text changes recommended by the Examiner have been made but are not considered to be a material change to the plan. The Examiner’s proposed modifications and the Council’s response are set out at Appendix B.
The Council is also in agreement with the Examiner that the SEA has considered an appropriate range of alternatives, and in addition makes reference to cumulative impacts. The Examiner concluded that the Plan has been subject to a rigorous and comprehensive SA/SEA process during its preparation. On this basis it agreed that the SEA meets the regulatory requirements.
A Habitats Regulations Assessment Screening Report for the Plan was published in November 2018 and was the subject of consultation with the necessary statutory bodies, including Natural England, as required by legislation. The Examiner noted that Natural England did not raised any concerns regarding the HRA. Therefore, on the basis of the information provided and the Examiner’s independent consideration of the SA/SEA, the HRA and the Plan, the Council is satisfied that the Plan is compatible with EU obligations in respect of the SEA Regulations and the Habitats Directive.
The statement confirms that the draft submission Southwater Neighbourhood Plan, as now modified in response to the Examiner’s Proposed Modifications, complies with the legal requirements and may proceed to referendum. Unfortunately however, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in mandatory restrictions on movement since March 2020 to prevent transmission of the virus and protect vulnerable groups. The Local Government and Police and Crime Commissioner (Coronavirus) (Postponement of Elections and Referendums) (England and Wales) Regulation 2020 prevents any referendum on neighbourhood plans being held until 5 May 2021 at the earliest. It follows that the referendum for the Southwater Neighbourhood Development Plan is suspended until further notice and a referendum can be undertaken safely.
However, upon the issue of the decision statement (on 20 August 2020), ‘significant weight’ should now be applied to the plan by the decision maker when considering planning applications.
The modified plan which will now progress to referendum, and now has significant weight in the determination of planning applications can be read here.