Tuesday, 17 January 2017

'Special measures' for councils missing Local Plan deadline

Council planning departments failing to submit Local Plans by March 2017 could be put in ‘special measures’, under proposals being considered by the government.

Under the current ‘special measures’ regime for planning, councils that are considered too slow in deciding planning applications can be bypassed by developers, who can go straight to the Planning Inspectorate instead.

A report today by the Local Plans Expert Group, formed by communities secretary Greg Clark and housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis, recommended that these ‘special measures’ should also apply to councils missing the March 2017 deadline for Local Plans.

The report concluded the Local Plans process needs “substantial reform” and estimated “less than half” of the country’s housing need is being met by Local Plans.

The group said it approached its task “aware that there is a difficulty with plan production” but found “the extent of the difficulties… are even more severe than we anticipated”.

Plan-makers face “multiple difficulties” including a complex process and communities are “turned off by the length, slow pace and obscure nature of many Local Plans”.

The group heard an “almost unanimous consensus” that making Local Plans is hampered by “a lack of political will and commitment”, difficulty over agreeing housing needs and too many changes to policy and advice.

Policy changes may be “beneficial in their own right” but have had the “unintended consequences of destabilising plan-making, which needs a solid foundation”, the report found.

In the Budget published on Wednesday, the government said it would “look at the scope to reduce the weight of outdated plans in decision-making”.

If councils have not submitted a Local Plan by March 2017 then any existing housing plans should be considered out of date, the group said.

Similarly, any Local Plan by March 2018 that does not take into account the changes set out in the latest National Planning Policy Framework, which is currently going through consultation, should also be considered out of date. The group recommends the National Planning Policy Framework is only amended every five years, to provide stability in policy.

The government will consult on the recommendations until the end of April. Councils warned earlier this week that a suggested six to 12-month window to review Local Plans in the light of changed definitions of affordable housing is not achievable.

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