Local Plans: Common themes, but no quick fix
Blog written by Nick Pleasant
In early 2017 I – optimistically perhaps – suggested 2017 could be the year of meaningful Local Plan progress (see Housing White Paper requirements and MHCLG intervention(s)). But have we seen real or sufficient progress?
Clearly, some progress has happened through the passing of time; new Local Plans have been adopted and MHCLG has started to intervene in certain circumstances.
However, common themes still emerge. Something I raised back in 2017, the ‘Early Review’, is still perhaps seen as a silver bullet for potentially unsound Local Plans.
That’s not to say Early Reviews are always used as a ‘get out’ and they do have benefits in some circumstances, but it does seem to remain a suggested quick fix.
Revised NPPF is noteworthy, particularly the five year review requirement [paragraph 33]. But to my mind this is a function of good planning, whereas an Early Review is something more fundamental.
The Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan Inspector’s Initial Findings make interesting reading:
“… I am severely troubled by an approach which envisages that the plan will need to be reviewed soon after adoption. Whilst Inspectors are generally willing to find a plan sound where one or two finite issues remain unresolved and are relatively peripheral to the main thrust of the plan, it appears that the consequences of an impending government decision on the route of the Oxford-Cambridge expressway are expected to lead to a fundamental review of the plan’s development strategy.
 To be sound a plan must be positively prepared….
 Predictable events should be planned for.”
A warning shot then? Particularly for those authorities pressing ahead with a particular direction of travel which runs contrary to the evidence base, leading to a suggested Early Review or requiring the Inspector to make significant modifications and/or allow early review.
Or perhaps a shift in Inspector’s approach? With Local Plan Examinations pushed to be more than just ‘going through the motions’ before eventually a heavily modified plan with/without an Early Review is adopted.
Either way, previous thoughts from the 2017 blog still stand – Better rates of Local Plan adoption are needed, but not simply for adoptions sake, and Early Review must be used sparingly.
In this context, recent population projections, revised OAN and standardised methodologies could help boost Local Plan adoption rates. Time will tell… and for further thoughts on OAN see Nick Lee’s thoughts - Government Housing Figures - It's the Economy Stupid!
Perhaps, then, 2019 will be the year of the Local Plan…