Local Plan Expert Group
By Gary Halman, Managing Partner
The Expert Group, led by John Rhodes, has published a thoughtful and well considered set of recommendations which should help address many of the worst examples of Local Plan making - or in many cases, the lack of it - in local authorities across the country.
It’s a truism that the plan-led system only works if there is an up to date plan in place and although some good progress has been made over recent years, there are still large swathes of England without one.
Councils are already on notice from the Secretary of State that if they don’t have a plan submitted by March 2017 there will be direct Government intervention; the report goes further than this and says additional consequences should also flow from failing to meet this deadline, and be confirmed now, so as to act as a further incentive.
Some of the more radical of the Group’s recommendations need to have the detail fleshed out before it’s clear whether they will actually result in quicker plans. For example introducing a requirement for each Council to publish an Annual Monitoring Report on their 5 years housing land supply and for this to be independently examined itself so that it becomes definitive until the next years is published is an excellent idea.
It should lead to huge time savings in terms of planning appeals. But will authorities be able to publish such data annually and what will be the nature of its scrutiny at examination? For this type of technical statement to be really robust it will need to be subject to as close a level of critical analysis as is devoted to housing land supply at public inquiries and that will take time and resources, and needs to be repeated on an annual basis.
And what if the outcome is that less than 5 years supply is available? In those circumstances it should be automatic that housing policies are suspended and pools of reserve land are freed up to fill the gap. Moreover if authorities fail to publish their annual a report by the due date, the default position should be that they are deemed NOT to have demonstrated an adequate 5 years supply, with the same consequences so that house builders and landowners know they can bring forward other sustainable sites in confidence. That would be a real incentive to ensure reports are published on time, year after year.
Perhaps more worrying is the recommendation that the scope of local plans should be cut back to cover only “strategic issues” and all other matters included in Neighbourhood Plans or other documents instead. This might be one way to secure more concise local plans but it places a huge responsibility on communities preparing their neighbourhood plans, often on very limited resources and without any of the technical skills expected of forward planners which are essential in identifying, for example, appropriate major land allocations, infrastructure requirements or viability assessment.
This would carry the risk that site allocations could be delayed which would act against the delivery of much needed development, and run counter to the Government’s growth agenda.
As always the devil is in the detail. This report is a series of recommendations and we will await with interest the Governments’ considered response.