FORDINGBRIDGE Town Council has been urged to “get ahead” with a neighbourhood plan before areas for development are designated in the local plan.

The matter was discussed during a meeting of the council last week.

The neighbourhood plan document is designed to allow communities to shape the development of their local area, including what types of homes are built. A referendum of residents would then decide whether it is adopted.

According to government guidance, neighbourhood plans allow communities to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those new buildings should look like and what infrastructure should be provided.

New Forest District Council (NFDC) is currently in the process of compiling a 20-year local plan, which will outline sites that should be used for major housing developments

Cllr Rosemary Fulford said it would be beneficial if the town council could “get ahead” with a neighbourhood plan before the areas designated for development were confirmed in the local plan.

She said it was possible to complete a plan within 18 months.

Cllr Fulford suggested a steering group be set up to “make a start” on a neighbourhood plan, adding: “We are never going to get anywhere if we don’t make a start.

She said the money was there and £9,000 was “waiting to be applied for” and that the council could get the initial consultations free.

Cllr Connolly added: “We need help, we can’t do it on our own.”

He said there had been discussions about asking any local “planning gurus” in the area to help the council “kick-start” the plan.

“We are going to prioritise that,” said Cllr Connolly. “There is a lot of work to do. What we want to do is precede that so that you have all the salient points, the pros, the cons, the in betweens, and then we take a decision.

“I agree with Rosemary, we need to have a neighbourhood plan.”

Cllr Fulford said: “We need to get it going. We have mucked around with this and what is happening is we have lost the land up here to designations, to building. We will be sitting up here in this hall in another five years with the residents saying, ‘what did you lot do about it?’”

She added: “We cannot complain if we get the areas we love and we think we should keep in the next five years if we lose them.”

Cllr Connolly said the council had “lost heart” after spending a lot of time looking at the Whitsbury Road housing development which the town council had opposed. The development was given planning permission by NFDC.

He added: “It really did distract us from the neighbourhood plan.”

He told the meeting a “plan of action”would be prepared and brought back to councillors for further discussion.