Local Plans – Key Issues
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What is the role of a Local Plan?
National planning policy places Local Plans at the heart of the planning system, so it is essential that they are in place and kept up to date. Local Plans set out a vision and a framework for the future development of the area, addressing needs and opportunities in relation to housing, the economy, community facilities and infrastructure – as well as a basis for safeguarding the environment, adapting to climate change and securing good design. They are also a critical tool in guiding decisions about individual development proposals, as Local Plans (together with any neighbourhood plans that have been made) are the starting-point for considering whether applications can be approved. It is important for all areas to put an up to date plan in place to positively guide development decisions.
National planning policy sets clear expectations as to how a Local Plan must be developed in order to be justified, effective, consistent with national policy and positively prepared to deliver sustainable development that meets local needs and national priorities.
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What should a Local Plan contain?
The Local Plan should make clear what is intended to happen in the area over the life of the plan, where and when this will occur and how it will be delivered. This can be done by setting out broad locations and specific allocations of land for different purposes; through designations showing areas where particular opportunities or considerations apply (such as protected habitats); and through criteria-based policies to be taken into account when considering development. A policies map must illustrate geographically the application of policies in a development plan. The policies map may be supported by such other information as the Local Planning Authority sees fit to best explain the spatial application of development plan policies.
Local Plans should be tailored to the needs of each area in terms of their strategy and the policies required. They should focus on the key issues that need to be addressed and be aspirational but realistic in what they propose. The Local Plan should aim to meet the objectively assessed development and infrastructure needs of the area, including unmet needs of neighbouring areas where this is consistent with policies in the National Planning Policy Framework as a whole. Local Plans should recognise the contribution that Neighbourhood Plans can make in planning to meet development and infrastructure needs.
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How is a Local Plan produced?
Local planning authorities develop a Local Plan by assessing the future needs and opportunities of their area, developing options for addressing these and then identifying a preferred approach. This involves gathering evidence, carrying out a Sustainability Appraisal to inform the preparation of the Local Plan and effective discussion and consultation with local communities, businesses and other interested parties.
There is considerable flexibility open to local planning authorities in how they carry out the initial stages of plan production, provided they comply with the specific requirements in regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012, (‘the Local Plan Regulations’) on consultation, and with the commitments in their Statement of Community Involvement. Consultation exercises on emerging options are often termed “issues and options”, “preferred options” or “pre publication”. Local planning authorities should always make clear how any consultation fits within the wider Local Plan process.
Local planning authorities must publicise the version of their Local Plan that they intend to submit to the Planning Inspectorate for examination to enable representations to come forward that can be considered at examination. This is known as the publication stage.
Local planning authorities must also publicise their intended timetable for producing the Local Plan. This information is contained within a Local Development Scheme, which local planning authorities should publish on their web site and must keep up to date. Up-to-date and accessible reporting on the Local Development Scheme in an Authority’s Monitoring Report is an important way in which Local Planning Authorities can keep communities informed of plan making activity.
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What is the role of the examination?
Having received any representations on the publication version of the plan, the local planning authority should submit the Local Plan and any proposed changes it considers appropriate along with supporting documents to the Planning Inspectorate for examination on behalf of the Secretary of State.
The examination starts when the Local Plan is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate and concludes when a report to the local planning authority has been issued. During the examination a planning Inspector will assess whether the Local Plan has been prepared in line with the relevant legal requirements (including the duty to cooperate) and whether it meets the tests of ‘soundness’ contained in the National Planning Policy Framework.
If necessary, the Inspector may be asked by the local planning authority to recommend modifications to the Local Plan that would address any issues with soundness or procedural requirements that are identified during the examination. The Inspector can only recommend modifications if they are asked to do so by the local planning authority itself. If, in doing so, the Inspector identifies any fundamental issues with the plan, they may recommend that the plan should not be adopted by the local planning authority. The local planning authority will then need to consider whether to withdraw the plan and prepare a new document for submission. In this situation, any existing Local Plan policies will remain in force while a new plan is prepared, although some of those existing policies are likely to become increasingly out-of-date.