Some of the policies introduced in the past seven years have chipped away at the primacy of local plans, not least the ever-growing list of permitted development rights. But, until now, ministers in the May and Cameron governments have largely held firm to the principle that, as long as councils provide adequately for the development needed in their local plans, then those plans should direct development in their areas.
However, Treasury documents released as part of this week’s Budget reveal that the government is considering introducing a policy that would change all that. They say that ministers are proposing to tell councils that they are expected to allow housing on sites not allocated in local plans, as long as a "high proportion" of the homes are offered for affordable rent or discounted sale to first-time buyers. Green belt sites would be exempt from this policy, the documents say.
The detail of how such a proposal would work is as yet unclear. More will presumably be revealed in the announcement that Hammond said would be made "in due course" by communities secretary Sajid Javid. And presumably Javid will make clear that green belt would not be the only constraint limiting permission for housing schemes that have not been planned by the local authority.
But it is hard to see how such a policy could be introduced without destroying the incentive for local authorities to draw up a local plan. At the moment, the most pressing reason for a council to get on with the difficult business of allocating sites for housing development is that it allows the authority to retain control of where development will be permitted. But if even places with an adopted local plan lose protection against speculative development, then why would they put resources into plan-making?
Richard Garlick, editor, Planning // firstname.lastname@example.org