Local planning: Update 16 June 2016

Sections 143 to 146 bring in new powers for the secretary of state to intervene in plan-making, reflecting the government's commitment for all planning authorities to produce a local plan by early 2017.

The government argues that the secretary of state's current powers of intervention are unhelpful because they only allow plan-making to be taken over in its entirety. Instead, it wants to enable "more targeted and proportionate intervention".

Enhanced powers under these sections will enable the secretary of state to take default powers to prepare or revise development plan documents (DPDs), publish examiners’ recommendations, consider whether or not to adopt DPDs and require submission of DPDs for approval. He will be able to direct examiners to suspend examinations or consider specified matters, hear from specified persons and take other procedural steps to be prescribed by regulations.

A Department for Communities and Local Government technical consultation issued on 18 February  gave more detail. It said that where intervention is necessary, an external party would be appointed to undertake the work. It said ministers would prioritise intervention where there is underdelivery of housing in areas of high housing pressure, the least progress in plan-making has been made, plans have not been kept up-to-date, or intervention will have the greatest impact in accelerating local plan production. Authorities without a local plan in place or which have not kept policies in their local plan up to date will be a high priority for intervention, it made clear.

The government says it will compare expected timetables for plan production with information on plan progress kept by the Planning Inspectorate. Other factors guiding decisions on intervention will be the wider planning context, including the extent of collaborative and strategic plan-making, and the potential impact of not having a local plan on neighbourhood planning activity. The government said it will give authorities an opportunity to explain any exceptional circumstances which, in their view, would make intervention at the proposed time unreasonable.

Commencement:  Section 145(5), which allows the secretary of state to issue holding directions stopping councils from taking any further steps towards DPD adoption while he decides whether to intervene further, came into effect on 26 May and has already been deployed against Birmingham City Council’s emerging local plan. The remaining provisions will come into force on a date to be prescribed by regulations.

Comment: Some experts have raised eyebrows over the centralisation of powers under these clauses of the bill, with the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) calling the scope of the secretary of state's proposed powers "extraordinary". Planning Advisory Service programme manager Alice Lester said that these elements are mainly about ensuring that councils get the message that they should have their local plans in place as soon as possible. Lester said councils should respond positively to this message, but that further clarification is needed on the details.

The DCLG technical consultation document is here https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/501239/Planning_consultation.pdf

More on this topic:
How councils are racing to meet the government's 2017 plan-making deadline

Clark uses new powers to put Birmingham plan on hold