An irreverent look at some of the hot topics in planning. All commentary is given in good faith but does not constitute advice! For specific help on planning matters, please contact us.

I’d like to accord with the Development Plan – but what is it?

September 28th, 2018

Local authority planners, have oft been criticised for being out of touch with the communities they are supposed to be planning. This criticism is well founded in some regards.

Take development plans. In the good old days, unless you were metropolitan enough to have an unitary borough, each area had a strategic (structure) plan and a borough or district local plan. Both had proper OS maps that you could view and establish exactly what policies or allocations applied to your property or site. Every five years these plans would be reviewed and the new plan would replace the old.

Fly forward to the modern day. I have just finished trying to make sense of a town where the original Local Plan is now out of date except for certain, apparently random policies “saved” in 2007; the list of which I found on a single A4 sheet hidden on the Council’s website.

There is a more recent core strategy, which has a proposals map but it is too small to make any sense of individual sites, and development briefs prepared in line with the Core Strategy which conflict with the Local Plan proposals map.

The Council is also preparing a Part 2 Local Plan of which there is a submission version and a series of amendments, but no consolidated document of what it looks like now.

Then there is a Neighbourhood Plan that far from being the positively worded document it was intended to be, seems to say no to any development that fails to take the area back to 1950.

Finally, we have our friend the NPPF and the randomly organised, printer unfriendly Planning Practice Guidance which appear nowhere on Council websites yet inevitably fill the voids left between these rather random development plan documents.

If professional planners struggle with this minefield, how do those without any planning training?

Planning decisions are required to be able to be read and understood on their face, without reference to extrinsic material unless exceptional circumstances apply, and yet as far as development plans go, it is only with the extrinisic information that you can make any sense of the Development Plan.

Online local plans that weave together all relevant plans are helpful but far from the norm, unfortunately. Nor do authorities generally make any effort to explain the inter-relationship between documents on their websites.

While interpreting development plans continues to be a game that only a select few can play, it is hardly going to be the inclusive planning system that Government wants.