The support offer was discussed and drafted by officers with the planning portfolio holder at Cornwall Council. The local authority has a lot of demand for support – with over 200 parishes in the area and 70-80 parishes (some in groupings) thinking of producing a plan or having already applied. Officers from across Cornwall Council support the process, and in the planning service this amounts to around 2.5 FTE dedicated support.
The support offer does help, and is a useful resource for parishes and the local authority. At times the desire for support exceeds that stated in the support offer and sometimes officers do provide extra support to assist in some technical issues so as to avoid matters such as lack of viability in neighbourhood plan. Parishes have bought in consultancy and some are raising their precept to support this work. The use of the support offer from the local authority is considered to be working well.
In respect of cash resources Cornwall Council is seeking to enter into some written agreements with parishes to avoid any misunderstanding on what money will be spent on e.g. in the case of the frontrunners and what is to be done with the original £20,000 from Government. These agreements will enable the parties to work to a full governance arrangement and be signed by the planning portfolio holder for the council.
In High Peak Borough the process of agreeing what the Borough Council would offer involved a scrutiny committee report to the Regeneration Select Committee that set out three levels of service and their pros and cons. The choice was made to provide the middle level of service. The Borough Council drafted the Memorandum of Understanding and it was put to the Parish Council and Chapel Vision for comments so took some time to finally agree the wording given various meeting cycles. However it was signed in September 2012.
In addition to the support of the Borough Council, Chapel Vision have had assistance from the Design Council/ CABE which has proved invaluable as an independent view of what should be included in the plan, as well as an advisor on policy drafting. It had been hoped that the Chapel–en–le–Frith document would be consulted upon at the same time as the preferred options of the High Peak Local Plan but in spite of attempts to programme this using project plans this has not happened. Nonetheless the Memorandum of Understanding has succeeded in ensuring that everyone involved is clear about the roles and processes.
The Borough Council will use a Memorandum of Understanding where it considers this would add value, for simpler situations the service offer is likely to be sufficient.
Herefordshire Council currently has 25 designated Neighbourhood Areas and 4 submitted applications on consultation. Around a third of the areas Parishes have now signed a Service Level Agreement and many have been in place since October 2012. Most parishes are pleased that there is something clear in place that shows what Herefordshire Council is prepared to do. The process of sign up takes some weeks due to meeting cycles.
As far as the work in practice is concerned most parishes are at a stage where they are collecting background information so it is relatively early days .The inclusion of timetables and regular updates to the local authority will enable the local authority to ultimately manage and programme as many examinations and referenda as possible at the same time and stagger this workload as needed. It also helps to plan officers' workloads and will enable Herefordshire Council to review the resources and levels of support available.