Planning for Local Plans or Local Plans = Satisfactory Planning?

by Richard Anderson

The Government’s issue of the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in January last year heralded fundamental reform across the planning system – Local Plans were no exception.  Prior and increasingly in the future, Local Plans will be expected to be produced in a far more timely manner.  Many elements will be subject to increased scrutiny (e.g. design and the expectation of Local Design Codes, housing numbers both geographical spread and quantity and even tree-lined streets (!) to come).

In the meantime, Local Plans continue to be scrutinised through the Examination process and The Inspectorate, planning authorities, communities and those with development interests, continue to professionally squabble with some familiar themes emerging.

Duty to Cooperate

With formal Regional Planning long gone (although re-appearing in the form of the draft Oxford/Cambridge Arc (OxCAM) imminently) the Duty (for planning authorities) to Cooperate has been strained and found by some wanting.  Zack Simons a Barrister at Landmark Chambers found this to be a “pretty abject failure,” while consultancy JLL revealed that of the 5 plans found unsound or withdrawn last year, for four this had been a significant issue.  The draft NPPF does signal that the Duty will be scrapped but no alternative has been aired.  The need to return to regional planning of sorts?

Stretching Issues

In what was to be a first for London Councils (all 33 of them), Westminster Council had to remove a policy which required commercial schemes to make affordable housing contributions.  The development industry pointed out that this would have negative implications for “commercial growth and the viability of development” and the Inspector agreed – Westminster, on this issue had to beat a hasty retreat.  Historically Westminster have pushed planning policy often reflecting their particular/peculiar circumstances, in this instance the push was too far.

“Climate Emergency”

Planning Resource have reported that since 2019, around three-quarters of town halls have officially declared a “Climate Emergency.”  As such and in an attempt to shore up the sustainability position, attention has turned to (in many cases) demanding much from Local Plan Policy.  Nevertheless, a report last year by the Committee on Climate Change (a Government advisory body) concluded that most local plans do not currently acknowledge the extent of the challenge of delivering net zero and “need significant revision” to cut emissions from housing, energy generation and transportation.  Time for Local Plans to reflect and catch up pronto!  In the meantime, some (such as Cornwall Council) have recognised that the Local Plan process is still too slow and are in the process of producing a “Climate Change Emergency Development Plan Document” or DPD to us planners.

“Build, Build, Build,” (residential please and quick)

There have been many recent pronouncements from Whitehall aiming to spur developers and planning authorities into actually delivering new homes across the country.  One of the most controversial has been bypassing normal planning policy considerations through the application of Permitted Development Rights.  Whilst first in line were offices to be converted to residential (at the time de rigueur) and horror stories were told of windowless, zero-amenity space, no public transport homes appearing from within industrial estates, now it is time for shops, nurseries and gyms to be targeted.  Despite the RTPI, RICS and CIOB writing to Government yesterday to warn that these changes “present a risk for our nation’s town centres and businesses,” August is when this kicks in and the High Street will come under more strain.

Live with the planning policy already here, prepare for more new approaches to be taken both now and in the future, meanwhile watch and acquaint yourself with policy avoidance tactics which all, it is hoped, will lead to a (positive) housing revolution!

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