Councils are asking the government to make Local Plans shorter, quicker, cheaper and easier to understand.
Responding to a call for evidence from the expert group set up last month by housing and planning minister Brandon Lewis to consider reforms to the development blueprints, the District Councils Networks (DCN) has also suggested there should be improved strategic planning across economic and housing market areas.
Other proposals in DCN’s submission include reducing the “excessive” amount of evidence needed to support preparation of a Local Plan, a staged examination process and more protection from “five-year supply” appeals to councils with well-advanced plans.
Cllr Neil Clarke, chairman of the DCN and Conservative leader of Rushcliffe BC, said its submission set out a “very pragmatic and flexible way for delivering housing and economic growth” that was in line with broader devolution and national economic agendas. He said: “District councils work hard to deliver the growth our communities need but need better tools so planning can be carried out more efficiently and effectively than at present.
“The DCN agrees with the need for strong planning performance, but district councils must be fully resourced to deliver local planning. For this to happen the government must address changes to the planning fees regime to enable full cost recovery.”
The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) said the current “on-the-hoof” approach to national policy for local plans added “complexity” and “instability” to the process. “Requirements stemming from the courts, ministers and PINS (The Planning Inspectorate) can and do change on a continuous and unpredictable basis, meaning that plan makers are constantly having to react to the latest change – by adjusting policy, updating evidence and re-running elements of the engagement process,” the membership organisation said in its submission to the panel.
“Recent examples of this include the threshold for requiring affordable housing, and the introduction of starter homes policy. Each change necessitates an alteration to the Local Plan process, which in turn introduces delay.”
The RTPI also highlighted the issue of resourcing in local authorities following budget cuts, which have impacted on delivery and development. A recent survey by the organisation found an average 37% decrease in planning policy staff in North West councils since 2010.
“Some councils regard plan making as a loss making activity because it has no fee income, and accord it weight accordingly,” its submission stated.