Planning Minister Brandon Lewis told Parliament this week that the government would intervene where local authorities had failed to produce a local plan by “early 2017”.
In a written Commons statement he said: “We will intervene to arrange for the plan to be written, in consultation with local people, to accelerate production of a Local Plan.”
Whilst we may all welcome timely progress in the preparation of local plans, it is evident that the ‘bar’ for achieving a ‘sound’ plan may well be lowered in order to achieve this. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Greg Clark, on 21st July penned a letter to the Chief Executive of the Planning Inspectorate Simon Ridley voicing concern that some inspectors were taking too tough a line on shortcomings in some strategies, stating: “As inevitably a plan cannot exactly account for future circumstances there is a real value in getting a local plan in place at the soonest opportunity, even if it has some shortcomings which are not critical to the whole plan.”
“We have acknowledged this in planning guidance by setting out that local plans may be found sound conditional upon a review in whole or in part within five years of adoption. Many inspectors have already demonstrated commendable pragmatism and flexibility at examination to enable councils to get plans in place.”
It would appear therefore that the new government’s drive remains firmly on making the planning system more efficient, rather than more effective. The benefits of this approach may provide greater certainty to applicants with more areas having an up-to-date local plan in place against which to base decisions on planning applications. The dis-benefits surround the potential missed opportunities for proper longer term strategic planning, looking at how places may grow in future to accommodate the new homes and jobs that are required, as well as the infrastructure needed to support such growth.