Preparing a Local Plan
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Who is responsible for preparing a Local Plan?
Those local planning authorities responsible for ‘district matters’ should prepare and maintain an up-to-date Local Plan for their area: this includes district, London borough, metropolitan district, unitary, and National Park authorities.
Those local planning authorities with minerals and waste planning responsibilities should also produce plans to provide a framework for decisions involving these uses (this includes county councils in respect of any part of their area for which there is a district council, London borough, metropolitan district, unitary and National Park authorities). Local planning authorities can produce combined minerals and waste plans and, where relevant, may also prepare one Local Plan combining policies on minerals, waste and other planning matters.
The Marine Management Organisation is producing a series of marine plans to cover the English marine (off shore) area. Coastal local planning authorities will need to take these into account when preparing their Local Plans, insofar as they have implications for on-shore activities.
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Can a local planning authority produce a joint Local Plan with another authority or authorities?
Section 28 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 enables two or more local planning authorities to agree to prepare a joint Local Plan, which can be an effective means of addressing cross-boundary issues, sharing specialist resources and reducing costs (e.g. through the formation of a joint planning unit).
The duty to cooperate requires local planning authorities and certain other public bodies to cooperate with each other in preparing a Local Plan, where there are matters that would have a significant impact on the areas of two or more authorities. A joint Local Plan is one means of achieving this and those preparing Joint Plans will wish to consider a joint evidence base and assessment of development needs. Less formal mechanisms can also be used. In particular, local planning authorities should consider the opportunities for aligning plan timetables and policies, as well as for sharing plan-making resources.
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How often should a Local Plan be reviewed?
To be effective plans need to be kept up-to-date. Policies will age at different rates depending on local circumstances, and the local planning authority should review the relevance of the Local Plan at regular intervals to assess whether some or all of it may need updating. Most Local Plans are likely to require updating in whole or in part at least every five years. Reviews should be proportionate to the issues in hand. Local Plans may be found sound conditional upon a review in whole or in part within five years of the date of adoption.
The National Planning Policy Framework makes clear that relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites. Local planning authorities should also consider whether plan making activity by other authorities has an impact on planning and the Local Plan in their area. For example, a revised Strategic Housing Market Assessment will affect all authorities in that housing market area, and potentially beyond, irrespective of the status or stage of development of particular Local Plans.
A local planning authority must set out the timetable for producing or reviewing its Local Plan in its Local Development Scheme.
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What should the Local Development Scheme contain?
A Local Development Scheme is required under Section 15 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as amended by the Localism Act 2011). This must specify (among other matters) the documents which, when prepared, will comprise the Local Plan for the area. It must be made available publically and kept up-to-date. It is important that local communities and interested parties can keep track of progress. Local planning authorities should publish their Local Development Scheme on their website.
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How detailed should a Local Plan be?
While the content of Local Plans will vary depending on the nature of the area and issues to be addressed, all Local Plans should be as focused, concise and accessible as possible. They should concentrate on the critical issues facing the area – including its development needs – and the strategy and opportunities for addressing them, paying careful attention to both deliverability and viability.
In line with the National Planning Policy Framework, the Local Plan should be clear in setting out the strategic priorities for the area and the policies that address these, and which also provide the strategic framework within which any neighbourhood plans may be prepared to shape development at the community level.
In drafting policies the local planning authority should avoid undue repetition, for example by using generic policies to set out principles that may be common to different types of development. There should be no need to reiterate policies that are already set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.
Where sites are proposed for allocation, sufficient detail should be given to provide clarity to developers, local communities and other interests about the nature and scale of development (addressing the ‘what, where, when and how’ questions).
The policies map should illustrate geographically the policies in the Local Plan and be reproduced from, or based on, an Ordnance Survey map. If the adoption of a Local Plan would result in changes to a previously adopted policies map, when the plan is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for examination an up to date submission policies map should also be submitted, showing how the adopted policies map would be changed as a result of the new plan.
Section 19 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 sets out specific matters to which the local planning authority must have regard when preparing a Local Plan. Regulations 8 and 9 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 prescribe the general form and content of Local Plans and adopted policies map, while regulation 10 states what additional matters local planning authorities must have regard to when drafting their plans.
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How should a Local Plan reflect the presumption in favour of sustainable development?
Paragraphs 14 and 15 of the National Planning Policy Framework indicates that Local Plans should be based upon and reflect the presumption in favour of sustainable development. This should be done by identifying and providing for objectively assessed needs and by indicating how the presumption will be applied locally.
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Should all the Local Plan policies be contained in one document?
The National Planning Policy Framework makes clear that the Government’s preferred approach is for each local planning authority to prepare a single Local Plan for its area (or a joint document with neighbouring areas). While additional Local Plans can be produced, for example a separate site allocations document or Area Action Plan, there should be a clear justification for doing so.
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What is the relationship between the Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plans?
Neighbourhood plans, when brought into force, become part of the statutory development plan for the area that they cover.
They can be developed before, after or in parallel with a Local Plan, but the law requires that they must be in general conformity with the strategic policies in the adopted Local Plan for the area (and any other strategic policies that form part of the statutory development plan where relevant, such as the London Plan). Neighbourhood plans are not tested against the policies in an emerging Local Plan although the reasoning and evidence informing the Local Plan process may be relevant to the consideration of the basic conditions against which a neighbourhood plan is tested.
Where a neighbourhood plan is brought forward before an up-to-date Local Plan is in place the local planning authority should take a proactive and positive approach, working collaboratively with a qualifying body. This could include sharing evidence and seeking to resolve any issues to ensure the draft Neighbourhood plan has the greatest chance of success at independent examination.
Where a neighbourhood plan has been made, the local planning authority should take it into account when preparing the Local Plan strategy and policies, and avoid duplicating the policies that are in the neighbourhood plan.
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What evidence is needed to support the policies in a Local Plan?
Appropriate and proportionate evidence is essential for producing a sound Local Plan, and paragraph 158 onwards of the National Planning Policy Framework sets out the types of evidence that may be required. This is not a prescriptive list; the evidence should be focused tightly on supporting and justifying the particular policies in the Local Plan. Evidence of cooperation and considering different options for meeting development needs will be key for this process.
The evidence needs to inform what is in the plan and shape its development rather than being collected retrospectively. It should also be kept up-to-date. For example when approaching submission, if key studies are already reliant on data that is a few years old, they should be updated to reflect the most recent information available (and, if necessary, the plan adjusted in the light of this information and the comments received at the publication stage).
Local planning authorities should publish documents that form part of the evidence base as they are completed, rather than waiting until options are published or a Local Plan is published for representations. This will help local communities and other interests consider the issues and engage with the authority at an early stage in developing the Local Plan. It will also help communities bringing forward neighbourhood plans, who may be able to use this evidence to inform the development of their own plans.
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Can local planning authorities in the process of plan making use the same approaches that have been accepted as sound in other Local Plans adopted since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework?
Local authorities can consider following approaches established in local plan examinations that have been undertaken since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced, provided they are both relevant and appropriate.
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What roles do Sustainability Appraisal and Habitats Assessment play?
Every Local Plan must be informed and accompanied by a Sustainability Appraisal. This allows the potential environmental, economic and social impacts of the proposals to be systematically taken into account, and should play a key role throughout the plan-making process. The Sustainability Appraisal plays an important part in demonstrating that the Local Plan reflects sustainability objectives and has considered reasonable alternatives. The Sustainability Appraisal should incorporate a Strategic Environmental Assessment to meet the statutory requirement for certain plans and programmes to be subject to a process of ‘environmental assessment’.
The Local Plan may also require a Habitats Regulation Assessment, as set out in the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2010 (as amended) if it is considered likely to have significant effects on European habitats or species, located in the local planning authority’s area or in its vicinity.
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Who should be involved in preparing a Local Plan?
Local planning authorities will need to identify and engage at an early stage with all those that may be interested in the development or content of the Local Plan, including those groups who may be affected by its proposals but who do not play an active part in most consultations. Those communities contemplating or pursuing a Neighbourhood plan will have a particular interest in the emerging strategy, which will provide the strategic framework for the neighbourhood plan policies. The local planning authority will also need to ensure that it works proactively with other authorities on strategic cross boundary issues in line with the duty to cooperate.
Regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 sets out specific bodies or persons that a local planning authority must notify and invite representations from in developing its Local Plan. The local planning authority must take into account any representation made, and will need to set out how the main issues raised have been taken into account. It must also consult the Strategic Environmental Assessment consultation bodies on the information and level of detail to include in the sustainability appraisal report.
Section 18 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 requires local planning authorities to produce a Statement of Community Involvement, which should explain how they will engage local communities and other interested parties in producing their Local Plan and determining planning applications. The Statement of Community Involvement should be published on the local planning authority’s website.
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How can the local planning authority show that a Local Plan is capable of being delivered including provision for infrastructure?
A Local Plan is an opportunity for the local planning authority to set out a positive vision for the area, but the plan should also be realistic about what can be achieved and when (including in relation to infrastructure). This means paying careful attention to providing an adequate supply of land, identifying what infrastructure is required and how it can be funded and brought on stream at the appropriate time; and ensuring that the requirements of the plan as a whole will not prejudice the viability of development.
Early discussion with infrastructure and service providers is particularly important to help understand their investment plans and critical dependencies. The local planning authority should also involve the Local Enterprise Partnership at an early stage in considering the strategic issues facing their area, including the prospects for investment in infrastructure.
The Local Plan should make clear, for at least the first five years, what infrastructure is required, who is going to fund and provide it, and how it relates to the anticipated rate and phasing of development. This may help in reviewing the plan and in development management decisions. For the later stages of the plan period less detail may be provided as the position regarding the provision of infrastructure is likely to be less certain. If it is known that a development is unlikely to come forward until after the plan period due, for example, to uncertainty over deliverability of key infrastructure, then this should be clearly stated in the draft plan.
Where the deliverability of critical infrastructure is uncertain then the plan should address the consequences of this, including possible contingency arrangements and alternative strategies. The detail concerning planned infrastructure provision can be set out in a supporting document such as an infrastructure delivery programme that can be updated regularly. However the key infrastructure requirements on which delivery of the plan depends should be contained in the Local Plan itself.
The evidence which accompanies an emerging Local Plan should show how the policies in the plan have been tested for their impact on the viability of development, including (where relevant) the impact which the Community Infrastructure Levy is expected to have. Where local planning authorities intend to bring forward a Community Infrastructure Levy regime, there is a strong advantage in doing so in parallel with producing the Local Plan, as this allows questions about infrastructure funding and the viability of policies to be addressed in a comprehensive and coordinated way.
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What weight does an emerging local plan carry in decision-making?
The National Planning Policy Framework sets out that decision-takers may give weight to relevant policies in emerging plans according to their stage of preparation, the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies, and their degree of consistency with policies in the National Planning Policy Framework.