HOW LOCAL PLANS ARE MADE – THE LOCAL PLAN PROCESS
INTRODUCTION – WHAT ARE LOCAL PLANS?
In England, the ‘plan-led’ approach to the regulation of land and development places local plans at the heart of the town and country planning system.
Under this system, local plans form part of the statutory ‘development plan’ for an area. This forms the starting point for the determination of planning applications, unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
Chapter 3 of the NPPF sets out requirements for preparing a Local Plan which each local planning authority is expected to prepare, either singly, or jointly with other authorities.
Paragraph 15 of the NPPF states that succinct and up-to-date plans should provide a positive vision for the future of each area; a framework for addressing housing needs and other economic, social and environmental priorities; and a platform for local people to shape their surroundings.
LOCAL PLANS – SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT
The 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act places a duty on local authorities to carry out plan-making with the “objective of contributing to the achievement of sustainable development.”
The Planning Act (2008) puts an additional obligation on plan-making authorities to ensure their development plan documents (taken as a whole) include policies that are “…designed to secure that the development and use of land in the local planning authority’s area contribute to the mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.”
STAGES OF LOCAL PLAN PREPARATION
Local plans must be positively prepared by councils.
Preparation of a local plan document will usually follow the stages outlined below:
Paragraph 33 of the NPPF states that policies in local plans and spatial development strategies should be reviewed to assess whether they need updating at least once every five years, and should then be updated as necessary.
Reviews should be completed no later than five years from the adoption date of a plan, and should take into account changing circumstances affecting the area, or any relevant changes in national policy.
Relevant strategic policies will need updating at least once every five years if their applicable local housing need figure has changed significantly; and they are likely to require earlier review if local housing need is expected to change significantly in the near future.
1) Evidence Gathering and Early-stage Consultation (Regulation 18)
Para 31 of the NPPF states that the preparation and review of all policies in a Local Plan should be underpinned by relevant and up-to-date evidence. This should be adequate and proportionate, focused tightly on supporting and justifying the policies concerned, and take into account relevant market signals.
A local authority will consult on the initial issues and options that will define their draft plan going forward. This will have followed extensive gathering and review of data, evidence and information on key issues. Reports and studies are prepared on matters such as housing, employment, retail, environment and landscape etc. to inform the Council’s draft policies.
During the evidence gathering stage members of the public are consulted and can give their views on the issues important to them in their area by telling the local authority what the local needs are, and which sites should be developed, and which should be protected.
In order to be sound, Local Plans have to be based on a robust Sustainability Appraisal following an early stage Scoping Report.
2) Pre-Submission Publication Stage (Regulation 19)
Having taken account of responses received from the early-stage consultation and the findings of the Sustainability Appraisal, the Council will publish a planning document for a statutory consultation period of six weeks before it is submitted to the Government for ‘Examination’ by an independent Inspector from the Planning Inspectorate.
A Sustainability Appraisal report will be issued as part of the pre-submission public consultation.
The local planning authority has a chance to make changes to the draft document after the consultation and may decide to carry out further consultation if any resulting changes are considered to be significant prior to submission.
3) Submission of Document and Independent Examination (Regulation 22)
At this stage the final draft documents are submitted to the Government, and an independent Inspector holds an Examination into the soundness of it and the associated Sustainability Appraisal and evidence. The Examination hears evidence from anybody who wishes to make a submission on any of the key issues or questions highlighted by the Inspector.
The Inspector considers all of the evidence and representations made at each stage of the Local Plan consultation process. The Inspector can recommend adoption where he/she considers that the document satisfies legal requirements and can be considered ‘sound’.
4) Inspector’s Report and Adoption (Regulation 24)
Local plans and spatial development strategies are examined to assess whether they have been prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements, and whether they are sound.
Para 35 of the NPPF outlines that plans can be found sound where they are:
a) Positively prepared – providing a strategy which, as a minimum, seeks to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs; and is informed by agreements with other authorities, so that unmet need from neighbouring areas is accommodated where it is practical to do so and is consistent with achieving sustainable development;
b) Justified – an appropriate strategy, taking into account the reasonable alternatives, and based on proportionate evidence;
c) Effective – deliverable over the plan period, and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic matters that have been dealt with rather than deferred, as evidenced by the statement of common ground; and
d) Consistent with national policy – enabling the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in this Framework.
During an examination the local planning authority has the power to request recommendations for modifications from the Inspector that would make the document suitable for adoption in a scenario where he/she might otherwise find it not ‘sound’. If the local planning authority does not make this request, the Inspector is unable to recommend any modifications.
The Inspector publishes his/her recommendations in a Report. Whilst the Council does not have to implement an Inspectors’ recommendations, they are only able to adopt the development plan document if the Inspector has recommended it for adoption.
Where an inspector has not recommended adoption, the Council can adopt the Plan in line with any ‘main’ modifications as suggested by the Inspector. The authority will also be able to make non-material changes (called ‘additional modifications) at any time before adoption.
A Council may withdraw a Development Plan document at any stage prior to adoption.
All being well, the Council will ‘adopt’ the Plan at one of it’s formal meetings and the process is concluded, unless there is a legal challenge against the decision to adopt.
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