News & Events

February 2022

No Plan B: The necessity of up-to-date Local Plans

Local Plans set out the long-term development strategy for an area and provide the framework for determining planning applications. The preparation of a Local Plan is also vital to ensuring both the local community and prospective applicants can contribute towards the development strategy and ensure that a comprehensive area-wide strategy is developed.

Whilst it is acknowledged that, in the correct context, new development can successfully come forward outside of a Local Plan, the importance of adopted and up-to-date Local Plans cannot be underestimated in providing confidence for both local communities, developers and landowners. An adopted Local Plan outlining what new development and associated infrastructure will be delivered during the plan period and setting out a series of policies to guide developments.

However, many Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) have found getting adopted plans in place challenging and keeping those plans current has proved even more problematic. Basildon Council, on the heels of Hertsmere, Welwyn Hatfield and multiple others, has become the latest LPA to vote to withdraw its Local Plan, which has been eight years in the making, and was submitted for examination nearly three years ago.

Councillors from Basildon, Hertsmere and Welwyn Hatfield have all noted that they wish to review the Local Plan in the wake of the government’s rhetoric on the future of planning reform, specifically the development of green belt land. Albeit this was not supported by the formal response to Welwyn Hatfield by the Housing Minister who reiterates that the government’s priority for ensuring local plans are in place by 2023 has not changed, and that plan makers should continue to work under the existing guidelines.

LPAs have not been assisted by the Government who have seemingly backtracked on plans set out within the Planning for the Future white paper, which promised radical reforms of the planning system. However, the number of LPAs that have Local Plans in need of updating presents a problem for the delivery of new housing and associated infrastructure.

Research by CPRE (May 2020) suggests that over 80% of LPAs will need to review an existing plan, or adopt a new plan, to meet the government’s proposed deadline for all LPA to be operating under an up-to-date plan by the end of 2023.

Whilst Local Plans can be considered outdated quickly, the information included in adopted plans plays a key role in guiding coordinated development and giving confidence to developers, land promoters and landowners to bring sites forward. This includes the need to demonstrate future housing land supply and identify large strategic residential and employment sites and associated infrastructure.

It is acknowledged that the preparation of a Local Plan is a complex and lengthy task for an LPA to undertake, given widespread concerns about over-development, and with environmental issues and access to green space increasingly important to people. However, the length of time it is taking some under-resourced LPAs to prepare and adopt/update Local Plans represents a significant constraint in delivering new development, specifically strategic allocations.

This issue is typified by the Government stripping Uttlesford District Council of its powers to determine major planning applications (10 houses or more) due to its continued poor decision-making over major planning issues. With no Local Plan yet in place, Uttlesford District Council is currently drafting its third attempt to replace the current Local Plan, which was adopted in 2005.

The inability to deliver timely Local Plans not only constrains opportunities for development, but may also raise questions regarding the infrastructure identified within the plan itself. As we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic we also have emerged from a historic approach to transport infrastructure planning which involves moving away from ‘Predict and Provide’ towards Vectos’ pioneering  ‘Vision and Validate’ approach.

This involves the planning industry thinking of transport infrastructure holistically, placing greater emphasis on sustainable movement, active travel networks, health and wellbeing rather than highway capacity enhancements designed to accommodate future traffic demand. In the past junction capacity improvements were identified to support planned growth, which were developed several years before a plan was adopted, whereas now these may no longer be deemed either necessary, desirable or appropriate. There are already moves by some LPAs to review the need for new roads that were, until now, considered necessary to enable the growth identified within the Local Plan based on a Predict and Provide approach. However, this can lead to enhanced tensions not only between applicants and LPAs but also local communities who engaged in the Local Plan process and expect new highway capacity infrastructure identified within the plan to be delivered.

If we are serious about tackling climate change, as an industry, we must continually challenge the outdated infrastructure identified within Local Plans and support LPAs in delivering active travel networks through the planning process.