NEIGHBOURHOOD Plans have been defended by the councillor who heads Dorset’s planning.

Cllr David Walsh says they do have a place and will continue to be worthwhile – but could be improved by changes in Government policy.

The effectiveness of the plans in Dorset have been criticised by Lib Dem opposition leader Cllr Nick Ireland after a decision which ruled that a neighbourhood plan has limited weight if it was more than two years old – especially in areas which do not have a five-year housing land supply, as is the case across almost all of Dorset.

“I know full well how much time, effort and financial cost is involved in taking a Neighbourhood Plan from birth to adoption and our local communities have been actively encouraged to pursue the process,” said Cllr Ireland at this week’s full council meeting

“It is galling for our local communities to find out the fruits of their hard work and hopes for increased local democracy have a shelf-life of two years through no fault of their own.”

He said that around half of the twenty adopted neighbourhood plans in the Dorset Council area must now be regarded as being out of date, with more to be “shredded” next year.

He said around ten others are in various states of progress, including some about to go out to public referendum when pandemic safety rules allow.

“It seems that the lack of a five-year housing supply will likely get worse, at least for several years, rather than improve, and hence there is no prospect of this form of local democracy being returned to the towns and parishes of Dorset.”

Planning brief holder Cllr David Walsh said the situation was not quite as bad as outlined and there was still some provision for more recent neighbourhood plans to still have weight provided the housing supply figures, which are set by the Government, had not fallen below three years.

“Having a neighbourhood plan is definitely an advantage for its first two years, if the council does not have a five-year land supply.

“But the neighbourhood plan does not become worthless after the two years.  It is only the policies relevant to housing supply that start to carry less weight.  And if the council regains its five-year land supply then the policies could be given full weight again – though it must be recognised that all plans need to be reviewed and will not last forever.”