Technical Support

Groups facing a range of complex issues are able to apply for further Technical Support from the programme.

This support can come in two forms:

Technical support provided by AECOM – there are a range of technical support packages that groups are able to apply for as and when they become needed.

Once you have drawn down the initial basic grant of £9,000, complex groups will also be eligible to apply for a further grant of up to £6,000 giving a total grant ceiling of £15,000 in the period 2015-18.

Groups with complex issues

If you are a:

  • Neighbourhood forum (where there is no Parish or Town Council)
  • Cluster of parishes
  • High growth area
  • Deprived area
  • Group preparing a neighbourhood development order
  • Group undertaking a site assessment for site allocation
  • Group allocating sites for housing or mixed development

Or have a:

  • Business led neighbourhood plan
  • Population of over 25,000

You can access additional help through Technical Support.

More detail on what classifies as a ‘complex issues group’ can be found here.

Each time you complete the Expression of Interest form to apply for grants or support, we will determine whether you meet the criteria depending on your responses.

Technical Support

What is Technical Support?

Technical Support is available for groups facing more complex issues developing their neighbourhood plan.

Our partner, AECOM offers packages of independent advice on technical or process issues. They are designed to provide you with information (evidence) and advice (professional judgement) which will help you to:

  • decide your priorities and direction
  • to draft policy
  • avoid legal challenges
  • engage confidently with stakeholders such as developers, councils, local businesses and of course residents, who will have a vote at the end of it all.

Our consultants will work alongside you with a clearly defined brief, helping you to produce documents like design guide, a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), evidence review or site assessment. The more substantial pieces of work will last between a few weeks to several months depending on the complexity of your situation.

The team at AECOM are particularly keen to help ambitious groups, from all types of neighbourhoods, who want to really influence how their place grows and changes going into the future.

Closure of the 2015-2018 programme

All Technical Support applications have a final submission date of 31 March 2018.

Current packages of support

These are the current packages of support on offer:

Establishing a Neighbourhood Forum

This support helps a Neighbourhood Forum through its early development. The support is designed to provide assistance to the group to get to the point where it has a defined and well-argued physical boundary for the neighbourhood area, and is able to demonstrate to a local planning authority that it is capable of leading the Neighbourhood Planning process and has local support to do this.

How will it help?

Setting up a new body or adapting an existing organisation can be both exciting and challenging, particularly as Neighbourhood Planning should aim to bring together lots of different interests from one area to be represented on your forum. Agreeing a Neighbourhood Area boundary in a built up area where one neighbourhood may merge into another can also be challenging. Having an independent view on the Neighbourhood Area boundary, or critical friend support with regards to the inevitable ‘forming, storming, norming and performing stages’, you’ll probably move through when working with a new group of people, can be helpful getting everyone pulling in the same direction. Through this support package we can steer you through the legal requirements, developing a constitution, setting a budget (identifying the costs), project planning and publicity. We will also share best practice.


Enthusiasm and commitment from volunteers for community led planning. You will have a core group who have already understood the benefits of a Neighbourhood Plan or be a group of residents or businesses who want to have more control of future development and how local spaces develops. You will be able to demonstrate the group are committed to undertaking Neighbourhood Planning for example in the minutes of your meetings, and have a good idea of the key roles that individual volunteers will play e.g. chair person, communications, technical tasks.

Housing advice and assessment

Where Neighbourhood Planners choose to provide for the housing needs of their area, (for example through decisions on where housing should go and the type and the tenure of new housing), plan policies need to be underpinned by evidence to support the choices made and the approach taken. Establishing future need for housing is not an exact science, and no single approach will provide a definitive answer. The housing need assessment process therefore involves making balanced judgements, as well as gathering numbers and locally relevant data. The process can sometimes be complex, as a single Neighbourhood Area almost never constitutes a housing market operating in isolation from other areas, and must therefore be assessed in its wider context.

How will it help?

Not all those preparing a Neighbourhood Plan will have a clear housing allocation for their area set out in the Local Plan. Equally, some may want to take a fresh look at the types of housing needed locally. Our assessment, based on proven best practice helps Neighbourhood Planners understand what their contribution to the local authority-wide housing requirement might be, which in turn can help build an understanding of how many houses to plan for over your plan period. Our housing needs advice forms part of the evidence base (rather than being a policy document) and provides a firm foundation for you to develop informed neighbourhood housing policies, including policies allocating specific sites for new housing.


Needless to say, you must be able to demonstrate that you are seeking to address housing growth in the Neighbourhood Plan in the absence of a clear housing allocation for your area, and with ambitions that may exceed local plan/emerging local plan targets. The more local information available, the better, for example you may have carried out a local household survey into housing need and people’s experiences of housing, spoken to co-operative estate agents or had an initial steer from your local council.

Heritage and character assessment

A heritage and character assessment is a tailored study that brings alive the history and development of a neighbourhood or wider area in planning terms. It identifies a comprehensive range of physical features to help define your area, particularly those features that contribute to its special character and sense of place. This can be anything from views, to materials; or past events that have shaped how you area has grown and changed over time. The assessment commonly identifies sub-neighbourhoods, which will inform policies and guide new development.

How will it help?

If an important reason for producing a Neighbourhood Plan is to ensure that new development respects the character of your Neighbourhood Area then a heritage and character assessment can help you to understand and evaluate an area’s defining characteristics. The historic buildings, pattern of streets and open spaces and the interaction between these are just some of the things that make your neighbourhood distinctive from the next. A heritage and character assessment can help you ask the questions that enable you to consider how different features of the landscape/townscape contribute to its character. Before drafting your policies or planning specific developments it can be useful to understand and reflect on the historic and built environment to determine whether and how development might either damage or degrade your neighbourhood, or create opportunities for improvement and strengthening character. Carrying out a Heritage and Character Assessment supports your evidence gathering stage, is highly collaborative and will give you tangible information to act on in terms of the character and history of the place in which you live.


A heritage and character assessment is best used at an early stage in the plan-making process or when evaluating the impact of specific proposals as part of a Neighbourhood Development Order.

Site options and assessment

If you are using your Neighbourhood Plan to allocate sites for development then you should carry out an appraisal of options and an assessment of individual sites against clearly identified criteria.

These sites could be:

  • Vacant
  • Disused
  • Underused
  • Currently in another use that is inappropriate
  • Undeveloped.

The process usually starts with a desk based review of known sites and any potential sites suggested by the group that may be suitable for housing, employment or other uses such as open space, retail or community facilities. The process includes a review of all work carried out previously by the Local Authority and advises on consultation with local landowners, developers and agents.

How will it help?

Allocating sites for development can be one of the most contentious but powerful aspects of Neighbourhood Planning. We can help you bring together all existing evidence relating to potential development sites, identifying any new potential sites, and eliminating unsuitable sites. We can do this in a transparent, methodical and informed way which will stand up to later scrutiny. Each site is assessed against:

  • national planning policy and guidance
  • any local guidance you feel important environmental or physical limitations such as:
    • flood risk
    • steep slopes or natural features
    • site availability
    • and other factors, such as whether the site is financially viable to develop.

The output is a useful shortlist of suitable sites. You can then get feedback on these as part of your consultation on the plan. The final site or sites can then be allocated in the Neighbourhood Plan.


For this process, the group would need to share any knowledge relating to potential development sites and landowners and any work on site assessment carried out by the group to date. Groups will need to be committed to achieving sustainable growth, and understand and be prepared to see a site allocations process through to a reasoned conclusion.

Urban design

Urban design can be defined as ‘the art of making and shaping successful places’. It deals with the overall plan of a place, including for example, routes, spaces, blocks, the scale, height, width and shape of buildings in relation their surroundings. It is as much about the spaces between buildings as it is about individual buildings. Often the layout of public spaces, parks and streets gives a place its identity. Professional urban designers can work with your group and the community to produce bespoke design guides, masterplans (documents which set out how the site will be developed or improved) for small areas, development briefs or ‘design codes’ (a set of design rules that developers will need to adhere to). These can ensure that new development responds to the qualities and features that make your neighbourhood special (give it its character) and that it makes the neighbourhood a better place to live, work or spend time in.

How will it help?

You will find this useful if you would like to make sure that any new development stands the test of time and complements what makes your neighbourhood distinctive and special. It will also be very useful if there are parts of your area (such as a town centre, local parade or housing estate) which need revitalising, or if a large amount of growth is anticipated. Design sketches or masterplans can also help to bring your plan alive visually and to show you have listened to neighbours and businesses in terms of practical changes they wanted to see over years to come.


Enthusiasm to improve or maintain the quality of buildings and spaces in your area, and a willingness to see particular sites or areas or policies developed with a design-led approach. It will be important to have considered how aims for a site or area can be achieved through planning, rather than non-planning matters (e.g. through the layout or buildings, spaces and linkages, rather than matters which do not require planning permission, such as signage or highways issues).

Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA)

The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive is a European Union requirement that seeks to provide a high level of protection to the environment by integrating environmental considerations into the process of preparing certain plans with a view to promoting sustainable development. Your Local Planning Authority has a responsibility to support you to screen your emerging plan to identify whether an SEA will be necessary. Please include details about the date and outcome of the screening advice. We will not provide the screening itself as this is part of the LPA duty to support neighbourhood planning.

How will it help?

In some limited circumstances, where a Neighbourhood Plan is likely to have significant environmental effects, it may require an SEA. To decide whether a draft Neighbourhood Plan is likely to have significant environmental effects, it must be assessed (screened) at an early stage of the plan’s preparation. Screening for SEA is the responsibility of your Local Authority. Where a Neighbourhood Plan is likely to have a significant effect on the environment (that is, it has been ‘screened-in’) a Strategic Environmental Assessment must be carried out and an environmental report prepared for publication alongside the draft plan. One of the following documents must be included with a Neighbourhood Plan proposal when it is submitted to the Local Planning Authority:

  • A statement explaining that the plan is unlikely to have significant environmental effects (the screening opinion should do this) or
  • An environmental report, following public consultation

Where a Neighbourhood Plan is required to undertake an SEA we are able to assist with:

  • Scoping out what the SEA needs to focus on and advising on consultation strategy
  • Undertaking all or part of the SEA process and providing advice
  • Assessing reasonable alternatives for your Neighbourhood Plan
  • Providing you with an Environmental Report
  • Reviewing the SEA process undertaken alongside your Neighbourhood Plan.


You must have been advised by the Local Planning Authority that a Strategic Environmental Assessment is required for your neighbourhood plan.

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA)

An Environmental Impact Assessment is a procedure to be followed for certain types of development which are likely to have a significant effect on the environment. This is to ensure that decisions are made in full knowledge of any likely significant effects on the environment and that the public are given early and effective opportunities to participate in the decision making procedures. It may be of relevance to Neighbourhood Development Orders. Development of a type which is listed in Schedule 2 of the EIA Regulations and exceeds the relevant threshold set out in the Schedule or in a ‘sensitive area’ must be screened by the local planning authority to determine whether it is likely to have significant effects on the environment. Screening should normally take place at an early stage in the design of the project.

Where it is decided that an assessment is required, those preparing a neighbourhood development order must compile the information reasonably required to assess the likely significant environmental effects of the development. This Environmental Statement will accompany the neighbourhood development order proposal. You can find the full EIA regulations here.

How will it help?

In most cases, it is unlikely that an EIA will be required unless your group is promoting a very large scheme or is located in a ‘sensitive area’ such as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. This is a decision for the Local Planning Authority. If an EIA is required, we will be able to advise on the scope of work required, including the range of topics to be assessed and the method of assessment. Even if an EIA is not required, depending on the scale and location of the development, it may still be necessary to prepare certain environmental information (for example, noise studies, air quality assessments or ecological survey) to accompany the Neighbourhood Development Order and we can advise on the scope, cost and timing of this work.


You need to be intending to produce a neighbourhood development order and have had a positive screening opinion from the Local Planning Authority. In order for us to be able to advise on the scope of an EIA, and the scope of environmental studies that might be required, we would need to have an understanding of the type and composition of the development i.e. what is the area of the development and the proportion of residential/commercial/retail space to be provided as well details of the proposed development location. We would then work with you to establish a clear approach to preparing the necessary environmental information to accompany the planning application.

Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)

A Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) identifies whether a plan is likely to have a significant effect on a European site either alone or in combination with other plans or projects.

The Natura 2000 network provides ecological infrastructure for the protection of sites which are of exceptional importance in respect of rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats and species within the European Union. These sites which are also referred to as ‘European sites’ consist of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) (designated for habitats and animals), Special Protection Areas (SPAs) (designated for birds), Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance) and Offshore Marine Site (OMS).

Initially, you will need to screen the plan to determine whether significant effects on a European site can be ruled out on the basis of objective information – for example how close the Neighbourhood Area is to any European sites. If the conclusion is that the plan is likely to have a significant effect on a European site then an appropriate assessment of the implications of the plan for the site must be undertaken in view of the site’s conservation objectives. While appropriate assessment is the responsibility of the Local Planning Authority they will need relevant information to be provided by the Qualifying Body.

How will it help?

The HRA process helps you ensure your plan is compliant with EU obligations. The screening process will alert you to any significant effects of your draft plan on a European Site. Where required, a full appropriate assessment provides you with a vital document for your formal consultation and examination stage that will have been agreed with Natural England.


Until a plan has been screened, it is difficult to determine if a plan is likely to have a significant effect on a European Site. However, where the plan covers an area close to a European Site, significant effects are more likely. This service will be provided to areas where the plan is close to a European site and initial screening indicates an appropriate assessment could be required.

Viability of proposals

An individual development can be said to be viable if, after taking account of all costs, including central and local government policy, regulatory costs and the cost and availability of development finance, the scheme provides a competitive return to the developer to ensure that development takes place and generates a land value sufficient to persuade the land owner to sell the land for the development proposed. If these conditions are not met, a scheme will not be delivered (Local Housing Delivery Group, ‘Viability testing local plans’, 2012).

The requirement to assess viability forms part of national planning policy and becomes is a consideration for any group thinking about allocating sites, producing a Neighbourhood Development Order or introducing a Neighbourhood Plan policy that may impact on the viability of development.

The output of this service would be a report summarising the findings from our residual valuation appraisal(s). The detailed appraisals will be included as an appendix, with the main body of the report putting forward recommendations based on the cumulative impact of policies and/or site-specific issues in respect of site allocations. If the results indicate the plan and/or sites are viable it would provide a basis for groups to push forward with the existing suite of policies/sites, perhaps with tips on how to improve deliverability if there is a limited viability ‘cushion’. If the results indicate the plan or site allocation in a plan, or an Order proposal is unviable, the report will state the main influencing factors. It will suggest the means by which deliverability could be improved or whether a particular policy or allocation should be abandoned.

How will it help?

The appraisal calculates a range of scenarios (such as costs associated with planning policies and obligations, construction costs and local market values) to determine if a site is viable (i.e. capable of providing a landowner and developer a ‘competitive return’ whilst still capable of delivering the proposed policies or obligations). For more complex mixed-use schemes additional evidence gathering for costs related to external works, infrastructure and site abnormals may be required, possibly including, analysis of items identified in an Infrastructure Delivery Plan, CIL 123 list or County planning obligations document. Large site allocations or strategic developments (usually 150+ units and mixed use) for the most complex schemes will involve input from external property specialists. It should be pointed out however that our viability testing does not attempt to assess the specific price that could or should be paid to the landowner or the profit level that a developer should expect to receive.


The viability support can be provided at various stages in the development of a Neighbourhood Plan or Neighbourhood Development Order. However, proposals will need to be fairly mature in order that the viability testing outputs are useful and remain robust. Therefore, we would require an indication of the likely uses, quantum of development and any other information that may be necessary e.g. known infrastructure costs or abnormal site conditions. It will also be important to first engage with the Local Planning Authority, landowners and other stakeholders (e.g. agents/developers) should viability evidence be required for a particular site. For whole plan testing we would recommend that draft policies have been subject to some form of consultation and checking from the Local Planning Authority.

Evidence base and policy reviews

Evidence base is the term given to all the documents and information used to underpin the development of a Neighbourhood Plan and its policies or the proposals in a Neighbourhood Development Order. Neighbourhood Planners need to ensure that proportionate, robust evidence supports the choices made and the approach taken. The evidence is drawn upon to explain the intention and rationale of the policies in a Neighbourhood Plan or the proposals in a Neighbourhood Development Order.

We provide a systematic analysis of draft policies or order proposals and the evidence base behind them. This is to ensure they are proportional, adequate and properly draw upon any relevant evidence base that has been used to prepare a Local Plan. We don’t analyse all the evidence referred to or potentially available, but we do track a wide range of potential evidence. We also check whether the evidence being used for a Neighbourhood Plan or a Neighbourhood Development Order is up-to-date and relevant to your Neighbourhood Area. As part of this advice we also check whether draft policies add to and fit in with Local Plan policies (where current) or merely repeat them. This can help you save time by enabling you to focus on policies about the specific characteristics of your area and what is important to local people.

How will it help?

Because Neighbourhood Plans and Neighbourhood Development Orders must meet a number of legal tests, getting your evidence base in shape is very important. The evidence required will depend on the content and nature of the Neighbourhood Plan or the Neighbourhood Development Order. The more ambitious you are, the more evidence is usually required. Having up-to-date evidence in place feeds into succinct, robust policies and really helps you pull out those key issues relevant to your area. It also gives you confidence when undertaking your public engagement and formal consultation.


In order to carry out a meaningful evidence base review, you should have a clear vision and a set of objectives for your plan, together with draft policies and evidence considered to date. In the case of a Neighbourhood Development Order you should have a draft proposal prepared, Groups will need to demonstrate that they understand the importance of using objective data and information to develop their proposals, and to have gathered and documented the material used so far to prepare their plan or order. If the forum/parish has a recent community survey/questionnaire, that would also be very helpful in terms of evidence.

Facilitation Support

Skilled facilitators, also expert in neighbourhood planning, are available for short periods to parachute in wherever independent, critical friend or mediation input is required. Our facilitation service covers mediation help between competing interests, advice on communications and process issues.

How will it help?

Planning can give rise to strong views and Neighbourhood Planning is no different. Relations may become strained and strong positions may become entrenched on key policy issues or choices that have to be made, e.g. between sites. Local councillors can help with this, but if this isn’t appropriate, outside facilitation by someone whose is completely independent can help you to look at things differently, find common ground, improve your decision making or kick start a process that is faltering.


That you are clearly at an impasse and that you have tried to resolve issues internally before asking for this form of help.

Technical facilitation

Where neighbourhood planning groups would benefit from very specific and time limited facilitation, technical advice or assessment which cannot easily be addressed through an existing technical support package, Technical Facilitation may be appropriate. In these situations groups often require face to face support and/or more in-depth discussions, advice or facilitation to unpick more entrenched problems.

How will it help?

Technical Facilitation may be appropriate where entrenched blockages with Local Planning Authorities have meant that the Neighbourhood Plan preparation is at a standstill (whether due to refusal to screen for an SEA, or extreme delay in designating an area, or moving to referendum); or where a short workshop approach to either work on firmer draft policies or to explain the evidence conclusions reached as a result of an Evidence Base and Policy Review is called for. This highly flexible package would give groups access to senior technical staff who all have excellent communications and facilitation skills.


This package will only be become apparent through the diagnostic assessment and is likely to be offered only when there is an entrenched issue or a level of complexity that cannot be resolved through the delivery of another package of support.

Healthcheck prior to examination

A Healthcheck will look at whether the draft Neighbourhood Plan meets the basic conditions and advise any potential amendments to ensure the plan meets the basic conditions. This will not involve the re-writing of the policies but general advice on what changes need to be made.

How will it help?

A Healthcheck is particularly useful for groups to help them understand in more depth how the independent examiner will approach the examination and help them to identify areas which may raise concerns. This will help you to identify areas where you may need to modify you plan, if need be, prior to submission to the Local Planning Authority. This process has been developed to help Neighbourhood Planning bodies approach the independent examination with greater confidence. All the examiners used are members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors NPIERS panel (Neighbourhood Planning Independent Examiners Referral Service).


A Healthcheck is for those groups who are near the end of the Neighbourhood Planning process. You will need to have a completed draft plan.

This package of support is delivered by NPIERS.

Guidance Notes

Please read the Technical Support and Neighbourhood Planning Grant Guidance carefully before completing the Expression of Interest form (the first stage in the application process).

Grant and Technical Support Guidance Notes



Complete an Expression of Interest

To establish what type of support you are eligible for, complete the Expression of Interest form by clicking on the link below and completing the online form.

Once the type of support you are eligible for is determined, you will be sent a link within 12 hours to your nominated email for you to start the online application process.

Your link to the application form will stay live for 30 days, during which time you can revisit it at any time and the inputted information will automatically save.

Lost your application link, or can’t find it in your inbox? Find out how to fix this by reading our FAQs.

Final date for applications

Applications for grant for 2017-18 can be submitted from 1 February 2017 until 31 January 2018.

Expenditure through a grant must be completed within six months or before 31 March 2018, whichever falls sooner.

Click here to complete the Expression of Interest form

Blank application form for Neighbourhood Planning Technical Support

The application form is also available in a Word document to assist you with the input of your answers into the online form.

Please note: This is a template for your application preparation only.

Please do not submit this form as your application – you must complete the online application form (via the link provided to your personal email).

If you submit this document as an application it will be deemed invalid.

Blank application form for Neighbourhood Planning Technical Support

Blank application form for Neighbourhood Planning Grant and Technical Support

The application form is also available in a Word document to assist you with the input of your answers into the online form.

Please note: This is a template for your application preparation only.

Please do not submit this form as your application – you must complete the online application form (via the link provided to your personal email).

If you submit this document as an application it will be deemed invalid.

Blank application form for Neighbourhood Planning Grant and Technical Support

Frequently asked questions

Got a question? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions of applicants for Technical Support under the Neighbourhood Planning programme.

FAQs - Neighbourhood Planning