Councils need more time to adopt local plans

Councils need more time to adopt local plans © John Credland

Councils need more time to adopt local plans

Latest update 06.03.2013 14:52

New research suggesting that half (51 per cent) of councils in England will miss the deadline for adopting a local plan has prompted us to call for local authorities to be given more time to agree plans for their area.

When the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published on 27 March 2012, after a National Trust campaign to secure vital protections for land, local authorities were given 12 months to update and adopt their local plans to show where development should take place, for example to cope with predicted increases in population.

However, new research by the Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) suggests that over one quarter (26.8 per cent) of England’s local planning authorities expect that it will take more than a year from now for their local plan to be adopted, just under one-fifth (17.5 per cent) within the next 6-12 months and 6.7 per cent after the deadline but within the next six months.

Councils that fail to adopt a local plan by the end-of-March deadline will be subject to the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ in the NPPF.

This could mean an easy ‘yes’ for development proposals on the 55 per cent of England without national protection – that is land outside, for example, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or designated Green Belts.

Without an extension to the deadline, communities the length and breadth of England could be at risk of unwanted speculative development on land that has not been identified for development, as developers seek to cash in on the planning loophole.

'Speculative development is the polar opposite of good planning,' said Peter Nixon, our Director of Conservation.

'The success of the National Planning Policy Framework depends entirely on local plans being adopted. This is why we suggested that councils should be given two years to adopt their plans. A perfect storm of council cuts, the loss of regional strategies and just 12 months to adopt new plans has been too much for many councils to bear.

'Councils need more time to get their local plans in place to protect land from unwanted development and ensure communities get the developments they need, in the right places. Only in this way can development be genuinely sustainable.”

Jonathan Carr-West, LGiU Chief Executive, said: 'Planning is one of the most important but also one of the most contentious functions that local authorities perform. In a tough economic climate it's really important to balance the role of development in driving growth with local needs and aspirations. There may be real tensions between the two. Local area plans provide a way of working through these tensions but it is not easy.

'It's vital that we don't put bureaucratic process ahead of the need for a real democratically founded local planning system. Local area plans that balance the need for growth with the needs of the community are worth waiting for.'

Malcolm Sharp, president of the Planning Officers Society, said a year’s transition period was not long enough to complete the local plan process.

He said: 'Planning authorities are being asked to do local plans, support neighbourhoods, put the community infrastructure levy in place and negotiate infrastructure delivery - it’s a big ask on them to keep all the balls in the air.'

Further research into the state of the planning system will be published by the National Trust and LGiU ahead of the anniversary of the NPPF at the end of March 2013.