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The Local Plan Transition – From the NPPF (2019) and the Standard Method to a new White Paper Planning System
The preparation of local plans in England has become a ‘little’ more complicated in recent weeks (if it ever needed more complexity?). A new planning system is on the horizon, following the publication of the planning White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’. Shorter term changes are also proposed to the Standard Method for calculating local housing need, which has received much publicity recently[1] and Lichfields has already crunched the numbers and considered the different figures at a local level. While some of the output figures are on the high side (i.e. Westminster), other figures are surprisingly low (i.e. Liverpool). For plan-making though, the combination of proposed introduction of a new Standard Method and a wholly new planning system really has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons. Each LPA will need to take stock and work out its next move. Will it be decided to have a ‘White Paper’ Local Plan, to try and rush through a NPPF (2019) Plan or even try to game the system? This blog maps out the ‘plan-making’ road ahead: considering both the transition to a new planning system in the long term and a new standard method in the short term. Inevitably, this is a complex topic and just the transition itself will be complicated. We look to cut through the complexity here and to consider how LPAs might react in response to their different circumstances. There is some background to the different transitional arrangements, but if you already have some knowledge then you might want to skip ahead:         Contents                01 The transition roadmap: from the NPPF (2019) to a new planning system     02 The scenarios - how LPAs may react where:       They have a Plan adopted since c. September 2018       They have not adopted a Plan since that date and the local housing need is set to increase under Standard Method 2       They have not adopted a plan since that date and the local housing need is set to decrease under Standard Method 2       They do not have a Plan adopted after that date and decide to wait it out…             The Road Ahead: White Paper Plans and the Standard Method 2 A new ‘White Paper’ planning system We know that a new planning system is coming, underpinned by new legislation. We have looked at the proposals in-depth here. For this blog, the key thing to know is that the Government wants to give each LPA a binding housing requirement to plan for. This will take into account both housing need in an area (i.e. what the Standard Method currently provides) and relative constraints (or lack of) – i.e. a ‘policy on’ requirement[2]. Crucially, there is also an expectation that at least some ‘White Paper’ Local Plans will be adopted before the end of this Parliament and the next election in May 2024[3]. There are proposed transitional arrangements in terms of moving from the current system to the new ‘White Paper’ planning system[4]. Under the proposals, each LPA would have a statutory duty to prepare a new ‘White Paper’ Plan: 30 months from new legislation coming into force for any LPA without a local plan adopted in the previous three years; 42 months from new legislation coming into force for any LPA with a local plan adopted in the previous three years; or 42 months from adoption of a current local plan that was submitted for examination prior to the new legislation becoming in force. Working backwards, the new planning legislation will need to be in force by the end of September 2021 at the very latest, to enable a ‘White Paper’ Local Plan to be adopted before the end of Parliament. This takes account of a 30-month statutory deadline for LPAs without a Local Plan adopted in the previous three years and pre-election Purdah (following the dissolution of Parliament on 28th March 2024). Standard Method 2 The proposed changes to the standard method are independent of the White Paper proposals and are described as ‘short term’. Looking back at previous changes to the NPPF (2018), a consultation commenced at the end of October 2018 and changes were published in mid-February 2019 – c. 4 months. On this basis, we could be looking at ‘Standard Method 2’ being in place before Christmas. However, to simplify our road map, we have assumed that the PPG is updated with the new ‘Standard Method 2’ on 1st January 2021 (a new year’s treat). Transitional arrangements are proposed in the plan-making context (key to note that similar arrangements are proposed for five-year housing supply) to move us from the current ‘Standard method 1’ to the ‘Standard Method 2’. These are: If an LPA has already undertaken a Reg.19 consultation, it has six months from the adoption of ‘Standard Method 2’ to submit its new plan for examination – by our timescales this would be the end of June 2021. If an LPA hasn’t undertaken a Reg.19 consultation by the adoption of Standard Method 2, the LPA has three months to do so (i.e. by the end of March 2021) and then has a further six months to submit the plan for examination – i.e. the end of September 2021.   The ‘plan-making’ road map: the transition from the NPPF (2019) to a new planning system The roadmap identifies a rough timetable for the adoption of ‘Standard Method 2’ and the new White Paper planning system. Obviously, this is based on a number of assumptions, including that the proposed transitional arrangements are implemented as proposed. View as pdf How might LPAs react The circumstances for each LPA will be unique with politics likely to play a large role. However, there are some clear groupings in terms of potential outcomes. Group 1: Those with a plan adopted within three years of legislation coming in to force Taking a White Paper legislation ‘in force’ date of September 2021, for LPAs who have adopted a Plan since September 2018 (or will likely go on to adopt a plan from now up until that date) we can assume that its next Local Plan will be in accordance with the new White Paper legislation. Some with Plans on the boundary of September 2018 may be a little nervous as they could just fall through the cracks.  In any case, these authorities will then have 42 months to adopt said ‘White Paper Plan’: c. March/April 2025. Currently, there are only 59 LPAs that fall into this category. A list of these is included at the end of the blog. Group 2: Those LPAs without a plan adopted within three years of legislation coming into force The vast majority of LPAs currently fall into this group. The LPAs with Local Plans not already at Examination will be under a pressure to progress with plan-making under the current system and may well already be deep into plan-preparation. These LPAs have an incentive to adopt an NPPF (2019) compliant plan ahead of the new legislation. The incentive being an additional 12 months to prepare and adopt a future ‘White Paper’ Local Plan following the ‘in force’ date. How each LPA will react in plan-making terms will most likely hinge on its proposed ‘Standard Method 2’ figure:   LPAs with a Standard Method 2 figure above the current standard method Similar to previous transitional arrangements from the 2012 to the then 2018 NPPF, the new standard method might be the nudge to get on with plan-making for LPAs in this situation. You may recall a flurry of LPAs submitting local plans just before the transitional deadline to the 2018 NPPF. Missing this deadline would have meant that these LPAs Plans would have to be assessed against the then new Standard Method 1 (subject to constraints) instead of their own assessed housing needs. These LPAs may, therefore, attempt to ramp up plan-making to adhere to transitional arrangements in order to submit a ‘Standard Method 1’ plan; thereby banking a lower housing requirement in the short term and buying more time to make a ‘White Paper’ Local Plan in the longer term. Many LPAs will already have spent many years investing in a new Local Plan with residents and businesses inputting throughout – so it only seems fair that they may take this route. Therefore, expect a flurry of Reg.19 consultations either side of the new year, with Plan Submissions to the Secretary of State following in the summer. It may take a year or so from Submission of a Local Plan to its adoption: c. Summer 2022. From that point on, each of these LPA would have a further 42 months to prepare a ‘White Paper’ Local Plan – likely to be some time towards the back end of 2025 or 2026. This would give plenty of time to work out how to tackle whatever requirement figure the Government will mandate and gives time for the new system to bed in. Of course, it is also worth noting that missing the ‘Standard Method 2’ transitional arrangements for these LPAs could have major plan-making implications. There is unlikely to be time to account and plan for a higher Standard Method 2 target, so many of these LPAs may have to wait for the White Paper system to come in to force and prepare a new Plan within the 30-month deadline.   LPAs with a lower Standard Method 2 figure As a starting point, there will be many – most likely northern – LPAs with, what would appear to be rather low Standard Method 2 figures, when judged against said LPAs ambitions for housing and the ‘Standard Method 1’ outputs. These LPAs may simply ignore the ‘Standard Method 2’ figure even if they miss transitional deadlines and plan for a higher target; akin to the ‘Standard Method 1’ or even go further above that to meet housing/economic ambitions. A cynic, though, could see a situation arise where an LPA is struggling to meet the Standard Method 1 figure, or is doing so begrudgingly (against local opposition) and, in such cases, these authorities may deliberately wait for the ‘Standard Method 2’ transitional arrangements to pass. That LPA could then subsequently submit a Local Plan for examination – using the ‘Standard Method 2’ as its basis of local housing need – just prior to the White Paper legislation ‘in force’ date. With examination of the Submitted Plan, plus a 42-month timescale to prepare a ‘White Paper’ Local Plan, these LPAs would buy themselves some breathing time to prepare for whatever the Government mandated requirement is further down the line. For these LPAs, they might adopt ‘White Paper’ Plans at the back end of 2025 or early 2026.   And for those LPAs willing to wait it out? The above has assumed that LPAs will mainly want to have an NPPF (2019) Plan adopted ahead of the new White Paper legislation. This is chiefly to buy themselves time in the transitional measures to adopt a new ‘White Paper’ Local Plan: i.e. having 42-months (the carrot) instead of 30-months (the stick). But what about those who, by design or circumstance, become the early adopters of the new planning system? For LPAs who are already struggling to plan for the ‘Standard Method 1’ figure, or where they are highly constrained, or where the Standard Method 2’ is also higher - waiting could, arguably, be in their favour. This would depend on the politics of the area, but it’s not hard to imagine an authority with Green Belt/AONB and vocal residents, where holding off plan-making under the current system would be a significantly less controversial option. Given that the White Paper proposes that LPAs will have a housing requirement dictated to them which specifically accounts for constraints, these LPA may decide to hold fire and chance a lower figure later down the line for its ‘White Paper’ Local Plan. There will also be some LPAs who are in early plan-preparation stage, with less time and money invested, who might just wait. Why spend lots of local authority money on a Plan now, when there will be a statutory duty to prepare one within 30-months - potentially starting from Summer next year? However, waiting for the new White Paper legislation also brings with it considerable risks and unknowns. A constrained LPAs housing number could well go up, as well as down. There could be delay in the legislation coming forward with legal challenges – leaving LPAs without an up-to-date local plan. This is also a new system after all, that is highly likely to have teething problems. Finally, there is also the December 2023 deadline for all LPAs to have an ‘up-to-date’ local plan to consider. There was nothing in the White Paper regarding this deadline, nor any recent comments regarding it by Ministers. Assuming it is still in place, waiting to prepare a ‘White Paper’ Plan would mean missing this deadline. We don’t know what measures the Secretary of State would take in these circumstances. Summary There are many unknowns and permutations in our roadmap set out above. The introduction of the ‘Standard Method 2’ arguably makes the transition to a new planning system more complicated but may also result in some LPAs working quicker to bring about emerging plans. For those LPAs who end up waiting for the White Paper legislation to make their next Local Plan, there are significant risks and unknowns and so the question is whether local politicians will be willing to take the risk of the unknowns? The only thing that is clear is that the transition from the current to the new plan-making system will complex. We will need to wait and see what comes out of the consultation process but in the run up to Christmas and over the next few years in general local plan life will be complicated. We will all need to be monitoring local circumstances carefully and consider how these interact with changes to national policy. Of course, who could be better placed than Lichfields to help in this regard. Follow our blog for upcoming updates on what the various consultations means for local regions across the country. Also, contact one of our local offices if you have a more detailed query. LPAs with a plan/review/DPD adopted since September 2018. LPAs that have adopted joint plans are individually listed below. [1] Housebuilding algorithm will lead to more developments in Tory areas, Johnson warned[2] Lichfields: Grow, Renew, Protect: The White Paper - ‘Top Down’ Housing Requirements[3] Paragraph 6.3 of the White Paper[4] As detailed at Paragraphs 2.50 & 2.51 of the White Paper.


Hotbed of need: What does the new Standard Method mean for London?
Yesterday was officially #planningreformday and as part of this, my colleague Bethan Haynes almost immediately crunched the numbers for the new Standard Method (‘SM’) across the country. The results of can be viewed here. This blog forms part of a mini-series of more in-depth look at the impact of the new SM on different regions of England; in this case London – which is now (unofficially) England’s hotbed of housing need. It sits under an in-depth national blog prepared by Bethan which looks at the new SM and its calculation. The new SM figures The table below sets out all the new SM local housing need figures for all the London Boroughs. It also provides a lot more detail in terms of the average delivery in the past three-years, the emerging London Plan (2019) requirement, and the current SM figure. Overall, London’s housing need figure has jumped from c.56,000 under the current SM to c.93,000 as calculated using the new draft SM: a 67% increase. More importantly, it is c.44,000 homes greater per annum that is set to be required under the emerging London Plan (2019): an increase of 92%. Some highlights to note: Westminster – The City of Westminster sees an increase of 4,254 dpa from the current SM figure under the new methodology (+285%). This is the largest absolute rise in need across the country. Importantly, this is also even greater 4,765 dpa (+484%) against its emerging London Plan (2019) annual average requirement of 985 dpa. Kensington & Chelsea – Under the new SM, Kensington and Chelsea would have the largest increase as a proportion above its emerging London Plan (2019) requirement: from 448 dpa to 2,837 dpa – a +633% increase. Croydon – Along with Barking & Dagenham, Croydon sees a reduction in housing need under the new SM compared to the current methodology: a reduction of 104 dpa (or -5%). Albeit, the new SM is still slightly above its emerging London Plan (2019) requirement. Barking & Dagenham – The authorities old SM was below its emerging London Plan (2019) requirement anyway: 1,944 dpa compared to a local housing need of 1,730 dpa calculated through the current SM. The new SM figure for the borough would be 1,657 units: 73 units less than the current SM and 287 units (-15%) below the emerging London Plan (2019) figure. To help unpack the data, the below map shows spatially the difference (as a proportion) between the emerging London Plan (2019) requirement and the proposed new SM for that Borough. The inner London Boroughs north of the river are particularly affected by the changes to the new draft SM seeing the greatest increases. So are (in general) the very outer Borough’s such as Richmond upon Thames, Sutton, Bromley and Bexley. What does the new SM mean for London? Rt Hon Robert Jenrick himself has made it very clear that he thinks London should be planning for and crucially delivering more homes that the emerging London Plan (2019) currently proposes. The SM would result in a huge jump in housing need across the capital to a minimum of c.93,000 dpa. This is itself well above the 66,000 dpa need figure set out in the emerging London Plan; which Jenrick himself noted as being what “most commentators think is the real need of London”[1]. Indeed, the new SM would confirm London as the hotbed of housing need in England, being 28% of the national need figure. All of the top 10 greatest increases under the new draft SM compared to the current SM are also London Boroughs. But what practical impact could the new draft SM have on these London Boroughs? Well, potentially very little. In the short term the new draft SM should have no impact. The new draft SM is under a separate 8-week consultation to the White Paper (12-week consultation) and is described in the White Paper as a ‘short term’ change. Looking back at previous changes to the NPPF (2018), a consultation began at the end of October 2018 and changes were published in mid-February 2019 – c. 4 months. By that reckoning we could be in a situation where potentially this side of Christmas a new SM would be adopted through a revision to Planning Practice Guidance. Now, by that time the adopted London Plan (2016) will not be more than five-years old. So, for the purposes of five-year land supply there shouldn’t be a major jump in the requirement. In the medium term, there should again be no direct impact either. Assuming the emerging New London Plan (2019) is adopted prior to the adopted London Plan (2016) becoming more than five-years old, Boroughs will be protected for another five-years from that date. But what about the next London Plan that the Secretary of State has said needs to begin preparation, as a condition for signing of the emerging New London Plan? And what if that next London Plan is prepared under the auspices of the new planning system set out in the White Paper? There are two questions to consider: 1.   Is the higher number achievable, and if not what happens? If maintained as the basis for considering housing need, this proposed standard method would add to the level of need with which the London Plan would need to grapple; it would increase the pressure for moving beyond the current capacity-based approach that has driven London Plan-making to date. But whether the number is 66,000 or 93,000 does it make a practical difference? From a starting point – no. The emerging London Plan (2019) minimum requirements are quite a jump from the adopted London Plan (2016) and are capacity-based figures not need-based. If London only has capacity for c.56,000 homes – on average – per annum to 2029; in reality where will an extra c.44,000 units per annum meant to be built? The increase is it itself more than 7,000 above the current three-year average total delivery in the capital (37,000 units1). Such a jump in need would require more than simply finding some extra sites down the back of the sofa. Any housing need figure in London above 40,000 puts pressure on London’s plan makers to do something different, but that will take time to have practical effect. Even with some creative regeneration and renewal, there is clearly going to be a lot of unmet needs floating about unless there is some serious cross-boundary strategic thinking beyond London. The White Paper released yesterday does say that such thinking will occur (with the removal of the Duty to Co-operate) – but this is yet to be worked through. This, I would say, brings us back to and only emphasises more the biggest conundrum for planning in the South East of England – If London doesn’t have the capacity to meets its needs, where does the rest go? 2.   Will the current SM be superseded by the time the next London Plan is prepared? The new SM is in reality only a short-term change for current emerging plans. It is designed to set a need figure that plan makers then set against the various constraints in their area, to set a ‘policy on’ requirement figure. The White Paper’s Proposal 4 proposes to replace the SM for need with a new Standard Method for requirements which would taking account of need, land capacity, constraints and other ‘policy-on’ factors. This nationally set requirement would be non-negotiable. The Government is seeking to have this new system (and Local Plans – taking no more than 30 months to prepare) in place by the end of this parliament, which means the current SM proposals might have a shelf life of just two years. So, rather than vexing about the 93,000 dpa need figure, the next London Plan may find itself more focused on how the Government intends to standardise the exercise of carrying out its own balancing exercise of need and demand to set London’s housing target. This will leave is for a future London Plan to distribute it and decide what gives. For implications of what the New Standard Method means for other regions, see below perspectives: North West   |   South West   |   Thames Valley   |   West Midlands  |   Yorkshire [1] Letter to the Mayor of London, 13 March 2020