Planning matters

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Neighbourhood Planning – First things first?
NLP’s recently published TRIP – Neighbourhood Plans: In theory, In Practice, In The Future – has received significant public interest since its launch earlier this Summer, appearing in articles in professional journals such as The Planner and Planning Resource. NLP’s research and recommendations have also received political attention, featuring in a House of Commons Briefing Paper on neighbourhood planning.As a follow up to this research, I have looked further into the relationship between Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans.Once ‘made’, a Neighbourhood Plan is part of the Development Plan and forms a key part of the decision-taking process. Whilst Neighbourhood Plans represent a significant tool for local communities to shape development, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear in stating: Neighbourhood Plans must be in general conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan’ (paragraph 184).As set out in NLP’s research, it is clear that the intention of the NPPF was for Neighbourhood Plans to follow the strategic aims of post-NPPF adopted Local Plans. Accordingly, NPPF paragraph 184 also states that: To facilitate [the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans], local planning authorities should set out clearly their strategic policies for the area and ensure that an up-to-date Local Plan is in place as quickly as possible... (my emphasis)   Despite the best intentions, and as analysed further in NLP’s Early Adopters and the Late Majority (April 2016), only 31% of local planning authorities (LPAs) have an NPPF-compliant and up-to-date Local Plan.   As such, the slow rate at which Local Plans are being adopted has resulted in a scenario where Neighbourhood Plans are coming forward ahead of the Local Plan – or ‘bypassing’ the Local Plan. This can result in policies and housing allocations coming into force which are not subject to the same preparatory requirements as those in a Local Plan. NLP analysis shows that 62% of ‘made’ Neighbourhood Plans form part of a Development Plan alongside an out-of-date Local Plan. A further c.960 designated Neighbourhood Plan Areas are located within local authorities which do not have an up-to-date Local Plan.Whilst it is acknowledged that the Government is setting a deadline of ‘early 2017’ for LPAs to prepare a Local Plan, the pipeline of emerging Neighbourhood Plans (as shown on the map below), together with the less rigorous path to becoming part of the Development Plan, suggests that the ‘bypass’ trend will continue. Even though many emerging Local Plans across the country are at an advanced stage in their preparation, Neighbourhood Plans are not necessarily adhering to their draft strategic policies.To provide clarity on this position, the national Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) states that Neighbourhood Plans can be brought forward before the Local Plan. In such instances, the PPG advises that a Neighbourhood Plan should then follow the strategic policies of the Development Plan in force. However, in many cases, this comprises a Local Plan which can be a decade old, clearly out-of-date and not entirely consistent with the NPPF. In this event, the requirement for Neighbourhood Plans to have regard to emerging Local Plans is less clear.The PPG does, however, advise that the evidence base behind an emerging Local Plan (such as the objectively assessed housing need and the housing requirement) is likely to be relevant to the consideration of whether a Neighbourhood Plan meets basic conditions.Where possible, having regard to the emerging Local Plan evidence base should be in the interest of the Neighbourhood Plan-making body. If a Local Plan were to be adopted after a Neighbourhood Plan, and they contain conflicting policies, in accordance with Section 38(5) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, the decision-maker must favour the more recent policy. This could lead to Neighbourhood Plans becoming out-of-date, following the adoption of the Local Plan.In most instances, Neighbourhood Plans are consistent with emerging Local Plan strategic policies and this is often due to the positive cooperation between the Neighbourhood Plan-making body and the LPA. However, where this evidence base is yet to be progressed, and a Neighbourhood Plan has established a housing requirement, it begs the question as to whether an LPA would develop a Local Plan with conflicting policies. This is an important scenario to consider, to ensure that Neighbourhood Plans do not prejudice the preparation of the Local Plan.With this in mind, it highlights the importance of effective engagement between the LPA and Neighbourhood Plan-making body during preparation, to ensure that the Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plan will operate effectively together, with both being part of the Development Plan. In particular, the LPA has a key role to play, in resolving any conflicts between a Neighbourhood Plan and emerging Local Plan.As recommended in NLP’s Neighbourhood Plan research, it is also important for landowners, developers and other interested parties to engage with the Neighbourhood Plan-making process in the same way as with the Local Plan process.What is clear is that neighbourhood planning is here to stay, featuring prominently in the Queen’s Speech with the announcement of a new Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill to support neighbourhood plan-making. Following the recent ministerial changes, NLP will also be closely monitoring the implications for neighbourhood planning.In response to the issues with Local Plan-making, the Local Plans Expert Group (LPEG) has identified a series of recommendations that would help speed up the process to adoption.  At para S32, the LPEG report also states that:“If these recommendations are accepted, we further recommend that Regulations should be introduced to require local plans to be complete within two years from first engagement to final submission.”This represents a further measure to address the ‘bypass’ trend and assist in creating an appropriate structure to guide the preparation of Neighbourhood Plans.Whilst I consider that things have not quite panned out as intended, it is essential that all interested parties engage in order to achieve the best end result and a consistent Development Plan providing clarity and certainty for local communities, landowners and developers alike.  

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Political change – how will planning and housing policy be affected?
A week is a long time in politics; two weeks is an eternity. After the UK voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron felt his position was untenable and the process of finding a new leader began. Given how fast politics moves these days, it will come as no surprise to learn that the country will have a new Prime Minister by Wednesday evening – Theresa May. At the time of writing, the details of a May Government are yet to be provided, but do we have any indication as to the impact on planning and housing policy? In her speech delivered before it was announced that she would become the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister, Theresa May provided an insight into her feelings on housing – one which surprised many commentators as to the breadth and complexity highlighted:   Unless we deal with the housing deficit, we will see house prices keep on rising.  Young people will find it even harder to afford their own home.  The divide between those who inherit wealth and those who don’t will become more pronounced.[1]   These are encouraging words – there appears to be: a recognition that we need to build more homes; that people are being priced out of owning their own home; and that some people are able to accrue assets while many others cannot. May also makes a very interesting link between housing costs and economic productivity that could set the scene to better understand the link between housing costs and local economic performance:   And more and more of the country’s money will go into expensive housing instead of more productive investments that generate more economic growth.[2]   A strong supporter of Theresa May’s leadership bid has been the current Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis. Speaking before the announcement that Theresa May would become the next Prime Minister, he stated:   Whoever the Prime Minister is, we have to stay true to the manifesto we launched last year, which had two key housing policies: Starter homes and extending the Right to Buy to 1.3m people. There’s no reason that would change.[3]   This message should be unsurprising, for four reasons.First, the Conservative Party continues to have a mandate to deliver on their manifesto promises from 2015 – there is no constitutional requirement for there to be another general election if the Prime Minister steps down, and maintaining substantial parts of its election manifesto helps to underpin the Party’s democratic and political rationale for not ‘going to the country’.Secondly, the direction of travel for housing policy has been made very clear, and agreed by Parliament. The Housing and Planning Bill became an Act just in May this year; the plethora of consultations and regulations that need to be discussed, debated and agreed are already in motion and various housing policy objectives have been announced. There would be little incentive to change the direction of this complicated and wide-ranging policy reform now.Thirdly, with a great deal of high-level political attention to be focused on managing the process of Brexit itself, the fact that housing and planning policy already has its key principles established means that DCLG civil servants are in the encouraging position of being able to continue work on the details of implementation, through revisions to the NPPF, the PPG, and the regulations that will bring into force the Housing and Planning Act’s measures - all with a view to putting in place the changes over the coming months.Finally, in the face of economic uncertainty, there is a strong case for the Government doing everything it can to maintain ‘business as usual’ for housing supply and investment. Indeed, as the Government saw these housing and planning reforms as crucial to stimulate development and drive economic growth before the referendum, they will now see them as an imperative to ensure economic stability.It therefore seems that despite the political upheaval and looming economic uncertainty, Theresa May’s government will want to emphasise the role of housing, development and planning, ensure that policy reform continues to happen and do everything it can to promote stability. As this is a policy area that has seen huge change in the last few years, some stability would no doubt be welcomed by most in the sector. [1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/11/theresa-may-launches-conservative-leadership-bid-as-andrea-leads/[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/07/11/theresa-may-launches-conservative-leadership-bid-as-andrea-leads/[3] http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/may-will-stay-true-to-key-tory-housing-policies/7016024.article Image Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/Press Association Images  

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