Local Plan Watch: 11 key changes to local plans proposed in the planning white paper

Zoning of land, a much faster preparation process scrapping the duty to cooperate and potentially axing the five-year housing land supply requirement are among the far-reaching changes to plan-making that the government wants to introduce.

The MHCLG offices in London. Pic: Steve Cadman, Flickr
The MHCLG offices in London. Pic: Steve Cadman, Flickr

The Planning for the Future white paper was published for consultation by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) earlier this month. It proposes a series of radical changes to local development plans. Below we highlight 11 of these key changes.

1. Local plans would zone land into three - or possibly just two - categories. Firstly, "growth" areas would be suitable for “comprehensive” development, which would automatically have outline approval for development. Secondly, there would be "renewal" areas of existing development, where further, “smaller scale” development and “gentle densification” would be appropriate. Finally, there would be "protected" areas subject to more stringent development controls, such as green belts, green spaces or flood-prone areas. Depending on consultation responses, the first two may end up forming a single category, or automatic permission could be limited to growth areas.

2. Plans should be subject to a single statutory "sustainable development" test, possibly replacing the existing "tests of soundness". Intended to be a simpler test with “fewer requirements for assessments that add disproportionate delay to the plan-making process", this would include a "slimmed down assessment of deliverability” for the plan. A "slimmed down assessment of deliverability for the plan" would be incorporated into the new sustainable development test.

3. Instead of general policies for development, the priority of local plans would shift to specific development standards" drawn up by councils and communities, alongside locally-produced design codes. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) "would become the primary source of policies for development management” - supplanting any “generic development management policies which simply repeat national policy” within local plans, such as listed building protection. Instead, the priority of local plans would shift "from long lists of general 'policies' to specific development standards" drawn up by councils and communities. Alternatively, the option of taking a “locally-defined”, though standardised, approach on general development management policies in local plans could be left open - or local plans could be afforded the same level of flexibility on development management policies as now, so long as these does not duplicate the NPPF.

4. Changes to the standard housing need method are proposed. To contribute to the national housebuilding target of 300,000 new homes a year, local plans would need to “identify areas to meet a range of development needs – such as homes, businesses and community facilities – for a minimum period of 10 years", which, once determined, would be binding." (The government has published a separate consultation on short-term proposed changes to the standard method for assessing local housing need.)

5. The government is considering scrapping the five-year housing land supply requirement. The document says its "proposed approach should ensure that enough land is planned for, and with sufficient certainty about its availability for development, to avoid a continuing requirement to be able to demonstrate a five-year supply of land".

6. The legal duty to cooperate, which requires local planning authorities to continuously and effectively engage with neighbours on strategic issues such as housing need, "would be removed". However, it adds that "further consideration will be given to the way in which strategic cross-boundary issues, such as major infrastructure or strategic sites, can be adequately planned for, including the scale at which plans are best prepared in areas with significant strategic challenges".

7. Councils and the Planning Inspectorate would be required to prepare plans in no more than 30 months under a new statutory timetable with "sanctions for those who fail to do so". This timescale is little over the average preparation time for plans last year. Currently there is no statutory requirement to complete plans within a given time.

8. There would be “a new emphasis on engagement at the plan-making stage”, the document says. Meanwhile, community consultation at the planning application stage is to be “streamlined”,

9. New-style local plans would feature an interactive web-based map of the area, colour-coded to show zonal designations. For growth and renewal areas, suitable development uses, as well as limitations such as on height or density, would accompany these.

10. Such “visual” local plans would be prepared to a standardised data format, allowing a “strategic national map of planning” to be created. This would help authorities to “assess local infrastructure needs to help decide what infrastructure is needed and where it should be located".

11. The need for sustainability appraisals alongside plans would be abolished. Instead, a "simplified process for assessing the environmental impact of plans, which would continue to satisfy the requirements of UK and international law and treaties".


Adoption news

Lancashire: Lancaster City Council adopted its local plan at a full council meeting on 29 July.

Consultation news

Durham: Darlington’s proposed submission local plan was issued for consultation on 5 August.

Somerset: North Somerset began the first phase of consultation on its draft local plan on 22 July.

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