Bodies highlight concerns over resourcing for plan-making to local plans panel

Calls to strengthen strategic planning arrangements and to tackle a lack of local authority resources for plan-making are included in submissions to a heavyweight panel convened by the government to look at ways to streamline the local plan process.

Brandon Lewis: convened local plans expert panel
Brandon Lewis: convened local plans expert panel

The local plans expert panel, chaired by John Rhodes, director of consultancy Quod, has been set up by planning minister Brandon Lewis to consider how the local plan-making process can be simplified, "with the aim of slashing the amount of time it takes for local authorities to get them in place".

Earlier this month, the panel called for evidence to assist its consideration of the issues. The deadline for submissions was Friday 23 October.

Several of the submissions to the panel, seen by Planning, raise concerns over resourcing issues for local plan preparation.

In its submission, the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) says that "sorting out the issue of resources for local plan production is a priority". "Some councils regard plan making as a loss making activity because it has no fee income, and accord it weight accordingly," the submission says. Staffing reductions are "impacting on delivery and development," the submission adds.

In its evidence, the Planning Officers Society (POS) warns that "there is a severe shortage of policy planners and resources in policy teams across the country. Some authorities do not have any policy planners in their teams".

The society’s submission adds: "This is an increasing concern looking at the Housing Bill and various other government initiatives, such as the brownfield land register, self build and Starter Homes. These would add further pressure upon policy planners."

Meanwhile, in its submission, the British Property Federation (BPF) says that "there may be a role for considering how the private sector can contribute to meeting the cost of plan-making, perhaps at least by providing services and information in relation to its own sites being put forward for housing allocations".

POS’s submission points out that the duty to cooperate is "challenging and local authorities have found it hard to collectively agree cross-boundary strategic visions, objectives and policies".

Its submission adds: "POS would support the idea that local planning authorities could be incentivised or that a sanction be put in place to ensure that local planning authorities have a duty to agree housing numbers, not just a duty to cooperate within the process".

The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) says in its submission to the panel that the "lack of effective strategic planning in England is a major barrier to housing delivery and to the effectiveness of local plans". "Forcing district authorities in to endless rounds of negotiation and complex demonstrations of cooperation can be a diversion from the real task of sub-regional planning," it says.

The TCPA’s submission suggests that combined authorities could play a leading role in supporting local development plans by seeking consensus over housing, infrastructure and resource use.

Combined authorities could be given powers to prepare strategic planning guidance that could set out, for example, how to deal with housing needs across a housing market area, the TCPA submission says.

It also suggests that the panel should consider strategic housing market assessments (SHMAs) being commissioned directly by the minister through housing and regeneration quango the Homes & Communities Agency. "In any event, much more detailed guidance on SHMAs should be incorporated in the planning practice guidance," the TCPA’s submission adds.

Meanwhile, the BPF’s submission says that a new "National Spatial Framework" should be introduced to overcome barriers to policy-making in England.

This would assist with the duty to cooperate, by defining strategic plan areas, either for city-regions, combined authorities, or housing market areas. These areas would prepare strategic plans, the BPF’s submission suggests, calculating the housing requirement for each local authority in the plan area.

Local spatial frameworks – a "relatively short, ‘exec summary’ style document prepared by each local planning authority" - would sit beneath these plans, the BPF’s submission recommends.

Evidence submitted by the District Councils Network to the expert panel sets out proposals to improve the local plan process, including a staged plan examination, strategic plans across housing market areas, slimmer plans and more protection for councils from five-year land supply appeals, when their plans are well advanced.

The DCN’s submission also says that the government’s "early 2017" deadline to "produce" local plans needs clear explanation.

"More fundamentally government needs to review how they intend to resource the examination process for the large number of plans that will be submitted to PINS at around the same time," the submission says.

"It will be extremely frustrating for authorities to prepare their plans in accordance with the timetable only to find themselves in a long queue waiting for an inspector."

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