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An Overview: The Proposed New Planning System

Speed is of the essence - legislation will require the plan making process to last no more than 30 months with three stages: (1) a call for suggestions under the three land categories, including “best in class” ways of achieving public involvement, (2) drawing up of the Local Plan and evidence base with mandatory visits from the Planning Inspectorate for struggling authorities and (3) submission to examination by an Inspector and consultation – both carried out together.

The Government intends there to be more engagement with communities during plan making, streamlined through new digital tools seeking a wider range of views. All respondents would have the right to be “heard” at examination, although this may simply be in writing.

Plans would be subject to a single statutory “sustainable development” test, following a simplified assessment of environmental impact and deliverability, and appropriate infrastructure planning. Sites should not be allocated if there is not a reasonable prospect of necessary infrastructure being delivered in the plan period. Tests of soundness, sustainability appraisals and the duty to co-operate would be ditched (although an alternative approach suggested is to make it easier for suitable strategies to be found sound). Modifications proposed by an Inspector would be binding.

There would be a statutory duty on authorities to adopt a new plan by a specified date – either 30 months after the legislation is brought into force or 42 months where the LPA has adopted a plan in the last 3 years or has submitted one for examination. Review would be required every 5 years or sooner in the event of significant changes in circumstances. Government intervention could include directions to take certain steps and ultimately the taking over of the plan making process.

The Government is considering a new standard method for setting housing requirements. This would distribute the national target of 300,000 homes per year across the country, with regard to the size of existing urban settlements (so development is targeted at areas that can absorb housing), relative affordability (the least affordable areas take a larger share), the extent of land constraints (eg Green Belt – which remains a sacred cow, National Parks), opportunities for better use of brownfield land, the need for non-residential development and a buffer to allow for permissions which are not built out and choice.  How this would be set is not specified, but authorities would decide how to allocate their share. Joint planning arrangements would be permitted eg Mayors of combined authorities getting wider powers.

Given all necessary land is allocated, the five year housing land supply test is not considered to be needed, but the Housing Delivery Test and presumption in favour of sustainable development could be retained to test delivery.  As alternatives, the Government is considering giving local authorities greater discretion to test land requirements to address development needs, alongside retention of the five year housing land supply, allowing self-assessment or speeding up the current system, by removing a right to be heard or limiting hearings.

A more streamlined plan-making system is welcomed, but will developers have adequate opportunity to engage in examination of Local Plans and ensure that what is proposed in policies and design codes is deliverable and viable?

This article was written by Claire Fallows, for more information, please contact her at claire.fallows@crsblaw.com.

This article is part of a Planning Reforms: The Second Wave newsletter, click here for more information

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