The need for evidence
Planning practice guidance sets out that proportionate, robust evidence should support the choices made and the approach taken. Planning policies need to be based on clear planning rationale and proper understanding of the place they relate to, if they are to be
relevant, realistic and to address local issues effectively. The data and analysis about a place is called the evidence base. This can include social, economic and environmental data.
The evidence base needs to be proportionate to the size of the neighbourhood area and scope and detail of the neighbourhood plan. Other factors such as the status of the current and emerging local plan policies will influence the depth and breadth of evidence needed. The neighbourhood plan will have statutory status and be used to decide planning applications, so the evidence base needs to reflect this.
The range of evidence required
A neighbourhood plan is about the use and development of land, and appropriate evidence on local social, economic and environmental conditions and related issues is required. A good starting point is to look at the socio-economic profile of the local population. Population trends, local employment, industries and social trends should be identified. Predominant land uses in the neighbourhood area may be identified. Other evidence may relate to things like housing, transport, natural environments, built heritage, retail centres, urban design, community facilities and any other subjects relevant to the planning and development of the area.
There are two main stages to building the evidence base. The first of these is to review existing evidence. The second is to identify and develop any further evidence required, either because there is no existing evidence or because there needs to be a clearer focus on the particular neighbourhood.
It is important to remember that the neighbourhood needs to be considered in its wider context. The future prosperity and development of the neighbourhood will depend to a large extent on what happens in the wider area (beyond the neighbourhood area). There needs to be an understanding of that wider context for a neighbourhood plan to be realistic and deliverable. Therefore, evidence is required on the neighbourhood area and the surrounding context (though the neighbourhood plan and its policies can only apply to the neighbourhood area in question).
A summary of common sources of local evidence is:
• the joint local plan, and the evidence underpinning that plan or any emerging local plan;
• Strategic Housing Market Assessments (SHMA), Strategic Housing and Employment Land Availability Assessments (SHELAA), Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (SHLAA);
• any opinion-based research conducted by the local authority;
• technical reports, such as transport studies and public transport data;
• details of other environmental protection designations, such as tree preservation orders and sites of special scientific interest and areas of outstanding natural beauty;
• plans or data from other public bodies or statutory undertakers, such as health or education providers;
• existing plans for an area, such as a community plan, parish plan or village design statement;
• local libraries, archives, websites
It is not necessary to include the evidence base and outcomes of community engagement in the plan itself. To do so would result in a very thick and unwieldy document. Instead, it is suggested that a background document be created, which lists the sources of evidence, contains any new evidence and summarises the outcomes of the community engagement programme at different stages in the plan process. These should be available through the group’s neighbourhood plan website.