Local Plan Breaking

Computer analogies about the planning system used to be all the vogue. Remember open-source planning anyone, and all that talk of rebooting? Sadly, the phrase “spinning wheel of death” now comes to mind in relation to so many local plan processes up and down the country, particularly in green belt authority areas.

The chief planner’s letter to chief planning officers published on 11 February 2022 said this:

We will be providing a further update on our approach to changes in the planning system in the Spring. This will provide further detail on how we will take forward measures to create a modernised and effective planning system that empowers communities to support, and local authorities to deliver, the beautiful, environmentally-friendly development this country needs.

Whilst we understand that many colleagues in local government are looking forward to further detail on the precise details of our changes to planning, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage local authorities to continue work to ensure they have an up-to-date local plan in place in a timely manner.”

Surely something more than words of encouragement to local plan making authorities is needed in the face of what is now a growing systemic issue (thank you to my colleague Stephanie Bruce-Smith for the list, media links and quotes):

Basildon Council resolved on 10 February 2022 to withdraw its plan, two years into an examination in public:

“Committee papers released prior to the full council meeting last night said the motion to withdraw the plan was “based upon, in part, to the current Conservative Administration views and beliefs in placing a greater emphasis on protecting the Greenbelt for current and future generations than the previous administration.”

Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council resolved on 27 January 2022 to seek to take a different stance to that of the inspector of its local plan, voting down proposed modifications that would have achived the inspector’s required 15,200 homes in favour of a reduced number of 13,279:

The Leader of the Council said the administration was “stuck between a rock and a hard place” [after backing plan to fight inspector on housing targets], but presented a “viable alternative” which involved less building on the green belt.”

• Hertsmere Borough Council resolved on 26 January 2022 to abandon its draft plan:

Cllr Bright acknowledged the decision meant the council was unlikely to meet [the 2023 deadline], but said, “this potential decimation of large swathes of the Green Belt has been too much for local people and local councillors to accept”.

Mid Sussex District Council resolved on 21 January to delay work on its draft plan:

“The scrutiny committee voted in favour of a motion to discuss the district plan review so that “further work and consideration can take place and the outcome of any change in government policy can be known”, the committee’s chairman said.”

Ashfield District Council resolved in November 2021 to pause work on its emerging plan:

“Coun Matthew Relf (Ash Ind), cabinet member for place, planning and economic regeneration on the district council, said: […]

Now Michael Gove has stated that the very assumptions we were forced to use are out of date and all Government housing policy is being looked at.

To that end, we will pause the local plan timetable until we get greater clarity.

Arun District Council resolved on 6 October 2021 to pause work on its emerging plan:

At an Arun District Council planning policy committee on Wednesday (October 6), members voted to put the work on hold [and look again in 6 months’ time].

This was in light of proposed reforms to the planning system as a result of the government’s white paper ‘Planning for the Future’ and the upcoming Planning Bill.

You may know of other examples. The draft Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead plan of course only squeaked through 22 – 17 on 8 February 2022:

Cllr Coppinger said it was “the most important paper” he has brought to the council, adding the borough is “desperate” for affordable family housing.

He warned if the local plan is not adopted, government would ‘force’ the council to adopt it as all local authorities must have an updated plan in place.”

We wait to see what consequences, if any, await those authorities which have decided to take a “wait and see” approach, rather than proceed with green belt release.

The Secretary of State has powers to intervene (see my 18 November 2017 blog post Local Plan Interventions) but Joanna Averley’s “encourage” wording seems some way short of that…yet (contrast with this week’s designation of Uttlesford District Council for “not adequately performing their function of determining applications for planning permission for major development”, meaning that applications for planning permission for major development may now be made direct to the Planning Inspectorate). Much of this is all of course the entirely foreseeable consequence of the ongoing uncertainty as to what reforms to the planning system will now be made. We look forward to the Spring, in so many ways.

As a half-term holiday treat, there will be no clubhouse session this week, although recent events are available on replay on the Planning Law Unplanned club page. Spencer Tewis-Allen is planning a “build to rent” themed discussion for 22 February 2022.

Simon Ricketts, 12 February 2022

Personal views, et cetera

Author: simonicity

Partner at boutique planning law firm, Town Legal LLP, but this blog represents my personal views only.

One thought on “Local Plan Breaking”

  1. I believe the reasons the Chief Planner’s words were measured are that
    (a) the Government rightly interprets the political backlash it is witnessing (the examples quoted above are just the crest of the wave) from local populations against the outdated and now flawed ‘standard method’ of calculating housing targets and
    (b) there are no interim measures in place for LPAs who dutifully submit plans under the existing system when whatever reforms planned come into force and
    (c) even if it had the resources to put in place Local Plans where LPAs have declined or curtailed their process it realises this would be political suicide

    Like

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