Neighbourhood planning referendum guidance

Guidance for campaigners and Leeds City Council, town, and parish councillors.

  • Restrictions on publicity during the referendum period
  • Limits on expenses


This guidance note supplements the Leeds City Council Pre-Election Publicity Guidance for Members of Council and Employees. It deals specifically with the rules in respect of neighbourhood planning referendums and outlines the key issues that apply in relation to publication of promotional material (publicity) during the period leading up to anyneighbourhood planning referendum. This period, known as the referendum period, begins on the date the information statement is published (a minimum of 28 days before the date of the referendum) and ends on the date the referendum is held.

This guidance deals with specific restrictions in relation to any individual’s role as an elected or co-opted councillor of Leeds City Council.

The guidance also deals with restrictions on how much may be spent by campaigners by way of expenses incurred in the conduct of any campaign either in support of or in opposition to the referendum question.

Restrictions on publicity - Key points

  • Neighbourhood Planning Regulations restrict, during the referendum period, LCC and Leeds Local Planning Authority from publishing material which:
  • provides general information about the referendum.
  • deals with issues raised by the question of the referendum; or
  • puts arguments for or against a particular answer to that question.
  • The above Regulations on publicity do not relate to town or parish councils or their councillors and Leeds City Council is not responsible for the actions of an individual town or parish council. However, town and parish councils are required by law to have regard to the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity which states:

“Local authorities should pay particular regard to the legislation governing publicity during the period of heightened sensitivity before elections and referendums…. It may be necessary to suspend the hosting of material produced by third parties, or to close public forums during this period to avoid breaching any legal restrictions... In general, local authorities should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters.” “In general, local authorities should not issue any publicity which seeks to influence voters. However, this general principle is subject to any statutory provision which authorises expenditure being incurred on the publication of material designed to influence the public as to whether to support or oppose a question put at a referendum. It is acceptable to publish material relating to the subject matter of a referendum, for example to correct any factual inaccuracies which have appeared in publicity produced by third parties, so long as this is even-handed and objective and does not support or oppose any of the options which are the subject of the vote.”

  • Councillors can create their own publicity, in their capacity as a member of a campaign group, provided council resources are not used.
  • LCC business will continue during a referendum period. This includes publicity around normal council business and events. However, this must be carefully thought through to ensure council resources are not used or allowed to be used or manipulated by anyone in relation to the referendum.
  • LCC Community Forums relating to the referendum area and scheduled to take place during the referendum period should be postponed or cancelled where possible.
  • Before arranging any events in the referendum area involving councillors, council officers should take advice from Legal and Democratic Services.
  • Councillors representing the referendum area should not be quoted in any press releases issued (if any) relating to the referendum.
  • In line with guidance for posters at elections, no posters or leaflets must be displayed on council premises (including street furniture) or vehicles.
  • Views on the referendum question, which could be seen as in favour of or against the proposal, must not be published by the council.
  • Press releases issued by the council should not be used to support or oppose the referendum question but may be necessary to refute or correct inaccuracies published by third parties.
  • Councillors in the neighbourhood plan area need to maintain a clear distinction between their official duties as an elected councillor and their involvement with any campaign relating to the referendum. For example, they should guard against giving any impression of use of council resources for referendum or private purposes. During the referendum period councillors may continue to deal with ward work and represent their constituents.
  • Particular care must be taken by councillors who hold positions of responsibility within a council where, by virtue of their role, they could be seen to be supporting or opposing a referendum question.

Referendum expenses - Key points for campaigners

  • A referendum campaign is a campaign conducted with the aim of promoting or securing a particular outcome in relation to the referendum question. Individuals or bodies (including councillors) can campaign for a particular outcome as 'campaign organisers', but public bodies cannot.
  • A campaign organiser is an individual or body who, or on whose behalf, referendum expenses are incurred in connection with a referendum campaign. This can include councillors of parish or town councils.
  • Any person who seeks to promote or oppose a referendum question, will be deemed to act as a campaigner.
  • Referendum expenses are the expenses incurred by or on behalf of an individual or body during the referendum period for referendum purposes including:
    • Advertising of any nature (including agency fees, design costs, costs for preparation, producing distributing);
    • Unsolicited material addressed to voters by name or household (including agency fees, design costs, costs for preparation, producing distributing);
    • Material providing general information about the referendum, which deals with issues raised by referendum question or puts arguments for or against a particular answer to that question;
    • Market research or canvassing conducted for the purposes of ascertaining voting intentions;
    • The provision of any property, services, or facilities in connection with press conferences or other dealings with the media;
    • Transport costs (including transport hire costs) to places with a view to obtaining publicity in connection with the campaign;
    • Rallies, events, or public meetings organised to obtain publicity in connection with the campaign or other connected purposes including costs of attendance, hire of venues and provision of goods, services, or facilities at them.
    • Notional expenses incurred – that is where property, services or facilities are provided free of charge or at a discount of more than 10% of commercial rate.

None of this list extends to expenses in respect of property, services, or facilities so far as they are met out of public funds; nor to expenses in respect of remuneration or allowances payable to a member of staff of the campaign or campaign organiser or expenses incurred for travel or accommodation to the extent they are paid by the individual from their own resources and are not reimbursed to the individual.

  • Where the referendum does not involve a business referendum, the referendum expenses limit that may be spent by campaign organisers in connection with a referendum campaign is £2,362 plus £0.059 for each entry in the relevant register of electors.
  • Where a referendum does involve a business referendum, the referendum expenses limit that may be spent by campaign organisers in connection with the referendum campaign is £2,362 plus £0.059 for each entry in the relevant register of electors plus the number of rate-payers on the initial registration list.
  • The exact amount allowed for each referendum area will be published in the information statement or may be obtained from Electoral Services – 0113 378 4771 or
  • Campaigning groups are encouraged to register with and submit a statement of expenses to the Counting Officer
  • It is an offence for a person who knew or ought to have known that referendum expenses limit would be exceeded to permit, without reasonable excuse another person to exceed that limit and if found guilty would be liable to a fine of up to £5,000 and imprisonment of up to 12 months.

The law

The Neighbourhood Planning (Referendum) Regulations 2012 (section 5) prohibits Leeds City Council or the Local Planning Authority (Leeds City Council) from publishing any promotional material other than that required to be published under Section 4 – (Information Statement and specified documents, or factual information about the referendum) during the referendum period. 

Sections 6 and 7 of the Regulations set out the limit that may be spent on referendum expenses and the penalty for non-compliance. 

When the restrictions apply

Restrictions apply during the referendum period, which begins on the date when the ‘Information Statement’ is published by Leeds City Council and ends on il the date the referendum is held. 

What publicity means

The meaning of publicity is wide and includes any communication, in whatever form, addressed to the public as a whole or to a section of the public. 

  • Publicity can take the form of speeches, interviews, items on a council’s websites or notice boards, press releases, newsletters, leaflets, and newspaper articles issued by or on behalf of Leeds City Council.
  • Publicity can also include publicity issued by organisations that receives funds from the council. For example, if the council funds an activity group which organises an event that overtly attacks or supports a referendum campaign that could amount to a breach of the rules. A council cannot fund other organisations to produce publicity it is unable to issue itself.
  • If the council holds public meetings or supports or assists in meetings, organised by others, that involve publicity for the referendum, then this is also caught by the provisions.

What the restrictions are on the council’s publicity

The law does not allow Leeds City Council or the Local Planning Authority to publish or to assist others to publish material, which appears to be designed to affect public support or objection for a referendum campaign. The intention behind the publication does not matter – what is important is whether it “appears” to be designed to affect support or objection. This covers broadcast items, as well as written material. 

This can cover printed material even if the same information published at another time would be considered reasonable. 

What  use of council resources means

The use of council resources for referendum campaign or party-political purposes covers not only the publication of campaigning material but also any other activity intended to promote purely campaign or party-political interests. Examples include the use of a council’s postal system to distribute campaign material or sending out material using a council email address or use of staff time to carry out research to assist in promoting a campaign. 

Why the restrictions are imposed

The reason for restrictions during the referendum period is not to prevent a council carrying out its normal business, but to prevent council business carried out during the referendum period being used to secure advantage for a referendum campaign. 

Particular care needs to be taken to ensure that publicity or Council activities cannot be perceived as seeking to influence public opinion or to promote or object to a referendum campaign. 

Press releases during this period

During the referendum period press releases about the referendum will not be made unless authorised by the Counting Officer. The council is permitted to issue a press statement about the referendum containing factual information if that statement is to refute or correct inaccurate information published about the referendum by a third party. 

Use of council web pages

The content of the council’s website should not contain reference to a referendum campaign. Town or parish councils are not restricted from publishing information about a referendum in their area. However, if they do, this is subject to the referendum expenses limit. 

Special rules that council staff in politically restricted posts must abide by

Staff in politically restricted posts will know the legal rules that apply to them. If you are unsure about whether you hold a politically restricted post, you should speak to your line manager or your HR Business partner. 

Talking to the press and media during a referendum period

The restrictions apply to official council organised publicity including press releases or events and the use of the council’s resources. However, to avoid enquiries relating to a referendum campaign being directed via council employees, councillors are asked not to include council addresses and phone numbers in any literature. 

Councillors who represent the referendum area need to maintain a clear distinction between their official duties as an elected councillor and their involvement with any campaign relating to the referendum. 

Publicity for events

The restrictions apply to any events organised by the council. It is better to avoid proactively scheduling events and photo opportunities in the referendum area during this period if possible. 

Events that cannot be re-scheduled for operational reasons

If a council event in a referendum area cannot be postponed until after the referendum, it is vital it is organised in such a way as to minimise any challenge that the event publicised a particular campaign. 

For example, if a representative from one campaign is to attend, then (where possible) representatives of other campaigns should also be invited, and all should be asked not to use the event for campaign purposes. 

Posters and leaflets

No campaign posters or leaflets must be displayed on council notice boards, premises (including street furniture), or vehicles that do not comply with the council guidance. 

Any publicity material relating to the referendum published on behalf of any campaigning group should include the name and address of the printer and promoter of publicity material. 

Meetings during this period

Meetings in support of the council’s functions can still take place provided that such meetings are not used or could reasonably be considered to give rise to the perception that they are being used, in connection with a referendum campaign. 

Correspondence to constituents

Councillors are permitted to respond to correspondence they may receive in the normal way and deal with casework as a result of surgeries. However, letters or emails, which are being sent to constituents, must have no reference to a referendum. 

Using council premises for campaign meetings

Campaigners are entitled on reasonable notice to use meeting rooms maintainable out of public funds providing, there is no impact on the normal use of the room and as long as they meet the cost of the room payable at the commercial rate, including the cost of preparation, heating, lighting, staffing and similar costs and costs of damages. It is legitimate to use staff time to facilitate a booking. 

Who to speak to

Susanna Benton, Head of Electoral Services and Deputy Counting Officer   

0113 378 4771 or   


Sue Wolfe, Deputy Head of Electoral Services   

0113 378 4779 or   


Nicole Walker, Head of Legal Services and Deputy Monitoring Officer   

0113 378 9025 or   


Produced by: Susanna Benton, Head of Electoral Services

Last reviewed: 24 May 2023