6 Local Plans|
Statutory status of Local Plans
96. Section 38(6) of the Planning and Compulsory
Purchase Act 2004 provides the statutory basis for Local Plans:
If regard is to be had to the development plan
for the purpose of any determination to be made under the Planning
Acts the determination must be made in accordance with the plan
unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
97. The explanation of the presumption in favour
of sustainable development in the draft NPPF includes the first
reference to Local Plans, and illustrates the way in which the
NPPF guidance will impact on the operation of the statute:
Local planning authorities should:
Prepare Local Plans on the basis that objectively
assessed development needs should be met, and with sufficient
flexibility to respond to rapid shifts in demand or other economic
Local Plans are crucial to the planning process,
which the reference above highlights. Under the section 'Core
Planning Principles', the draft NPPF advises that:
Planning should be genuinely plan-led, with succinct
Local Plans setting out a positive long-term vision for an area.
These plans should be kept up to date and should provide a practical
framework within which decisions on planning applications can
be made with a high degree of certainty and efficiency.
98. Some witnesses applauded the positive approach
to Local Plans in the NPPF. Paul Cheshire welcomed the NPPF's
desire to "push people and Local Plan making into a position
where they will have to look more favourably at development and
allow enough land to come forward for development, and enough
space and flexibility within the system."
Stephen Wright, of the John Lewis Partnership, agreed:
hopefully this more positive attitude towards
planning will encourage local authorities to have a plan and to
plan for the right development in the right places. It is entirely
localist, to my mind.
99. John Rhodes, a member of the Practitioners Advisory
Group, argued that the statutory status of Local Plans had been
lost in the debate surrounding the NPPF:
One of the things that I think the public debate
has missed recently is the importance of the Local Plan in this
process. If there was one change between the advisory group draft
and the Government's draft that I do regret it is that I don't
think the latter is as clear as it might be on the role of the
Local Plan. [...] Section 38(6) of the 2004 Act tells you that
it you are contrary to the plan you should normally be refused
planning permission. This does not change that at all.
The NPPF does not give enough prominence to local
plans. For example, the Framework states that the 'default yes'
should apply "except where this would compromise the key
sustainable development principles set out in this Framework."
We believe that the 'default yes' should be deleted and that the
Framework should reiterate the legal provision in section 38(6)
of the 2004 Act, which provides sufficient clarity.
100. In a debate on the NPPF in the House in October
2011, the Minister, Greg Clark, addressed the supremacy of Local
The first objective is to make the Local Plan
central to what happens and to transfer power to local communities.
That has to be crucial.
In September 2011, he also gave an assurance that
"the primacy of the Local Plan remains."
When we questioned Mr Clark about the default 'yes' to development
section of the NPPF, he expanded his reassurances about Local
As far as the default yes goes, the principal
default is in favour of the Local Plan and it is very important
that we took a decision there. When the Localism Bill was going
through, there was the opportunity to change the basis of planning
law, Section 38(6) of the 2004 Act, and we didn't do it. It follows
from everything I have said so far that the most important basis
for a decision is the Local Plan. I want to see more planning.
We have too little planning and too much development control.
This point reinforces our recommendation that the
presumption in favour of sustainable development should be replaced
by a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is
consistent with the Local Plan.
101. In the previous chapter we concluded that the
presumption in favour of sustainable development should be redefined
as 'a presumption in favour of sustainable development consistent
with the Local Plan'. We recommend that the NPPF unambiguously
reflect the statutory supremacy of Local Plans, in accordance
with the 2004 Planning Act. The prominence given to the presumption
in favour of sustainable development risks presenting it as a
decision-making mechanism on a par with, or superior to, the Local
Plan. In view of the fact that the Local Plan is a keystone of
the planning edifice, it is crucial that local authorities have
Local Plans in place as soon as possible. We will discuss
further the importance of local authorities having Local Plans
in place in Chapter 7.
Absent, silent, out-of-date or
indeterminate Local Plans
102. The NPPF advises that when the Local Plan is
absent, silent, out-of-date or indeterminate, the NPPF itself
becomes the default plan. Some witnesses welcomed this approach,
for example, John Rhodes who said:
the NPPF is perfectly capable of operating as
their Local Plan until they have their Local Plan in place, because
it says, yes, they should try to meet developments requirements,
and yes, there is a presumption in favour of development, but
only if its adverse effects do not outweigh its benefits.
103. As well as the problem of absent Local Plans,
there is the opposite but equally worrying concern that Local
Plans will become bloated, with local authorities wanting to incorporate
into their individual plans large amounts of the planning policy
and guidance that has been rejected in the draft NPPF. Hampshire
County Council predicted that Local Plans, far from being succinct
as the NPPF advises, would be "detailed and comprehensive",
which in turn "has implications for both the time and cost
of their preparation and how accessible (or otherwise) they are
to the layman."
Community and Regional Planning Services wrote that local planning
officers may want to incorporate some of the lost detail from
Planning Policy Statements into their Local Plans, where this
does not conflict with the NPPF.
However, some believe that large Local Plans are not a concern,
but rather allow local authorities to pick and choose which policies
they need for their specific, local area. Cllr Gary Porter, representing
the LGA, commented: "Surely it is better to have a large
Local Plan than it is to have a large national plan?"
Local Plans might also expand to accommodate policy from the Regional
Spatial Strategies, which are now abolished. There is a substantive
case for authorities to do that now, as they have previously been
advised not to cover policy issues incorporated within those regional
104. There is a tension between the advice in
the NPPF that Local Plans should be succinct, and the need for
local authorities, in the absence of national guidance, to produce
comprehensive plans tailored to local circumstances. We share
the Government's desire for succinct Local Plans, but accept that
somewhat longer Local Plans are inevitable because they will fill
significant gaps left by the loss of regional plans and by the
substantial reduction in detail of national policy.
Tensions between the NPPF, Local
Plans and Neighbourhood Plans
105. The NPPF describes Neighbourhood Plans, and
the way in which they relate to Local Plans, as follows:
Neighbourhood plans give communities direct power
to plan the areas in which they live. Parish and neighbourhood
forums can use neighbourhood plans to:
Set planning policies for the development and
use of land; and
Give planning permission through Neighbourhood
Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders.
- Develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood;
This provides a powerful set of tools for local
people to ensure that they get the right types of development
for their community. However, the ambition of the neighbourhood
should be aligned with the strategic needs and priorities of the
wider local area. Neighbourhood plans, therefore, must be in general
conformity with the strategic policies of the Local Plan. To facilitate
this, local planning authorities should set out clearly their
strategic policies for the area. Neighbourhood plans should reflect
these policies and the neighbourhoods should plan positively to
support them. Neighbourhoods will have the power to promote more
development than is set out in the strategic policies of the Local
106. Much of our evidence, both for and against the
NPPF, highlighted the contradictions that exist in the NPPF and
its relationship to Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans. Professor
Paul Cheshire summarised this point:
There is no way of getting away from the fact
that real conflict exists. You cannot always do what the neighbourhood
wants; you even cannot do what the locality wants. There must
be a wider community, social and environmental interest.
The Planning Officers Society wrote:
The Government's mixed message, about localism
versus centrally-driven policy objectives, is perpetuated in this
document, with little or no acknowledgement of the importance
of localism as an element of national planning policy.
107. Cllr Porter told us that once Local Plans were
written, taking into account the NPPF, "Neighbourhood Plans
should be able to fit into a Local Plan so communities will be
able to determine for themselves where development that is needed
goes. What they will not be able to determine is the fact that
they do not need any".
However, the drafting of the NPPF is confusing and seemingly contradictory
on the status of Local Plans versus Neighbourhood Plans. Paragraph
50 states that Neighbourhood Plans must be in general conformity
with the Local Plan's strategic policies (although it also states
that Neighbourhood Plans can promote more development than is
set out in the Local Plan's strategic policies).
However, paragraph 51 states that:
Outside these strategic elements, Neighbourhood
Plans will be able to shape and direct development in their area,
subject to the presumption in favour of sustainable development.
When a Neighbourhood Plan is made, the policies it contains take
precedence over existing policies in the Local Plan for that neighbourhood,
where they are in conflict.
As retirement housing provider McCarthy & Stone
highlighted, it is unclear from the draft NPPF when Local Plans
take precedence and when Neighbourhood Plan take precedence, and
"further clarity is needed, particularly on what is deemed
a 'strategic' decision".
108. This ambiguity in the NPPF will, however, make
it harder to encourage local people to engage in planning matters,
a point made by Tony Burton of Civic Voice, who told us that people
"are questioning the very basis on which the system is being
established and the very purpose for which it is there."
109. The Government believe that the New Homes Bonus
will incentivise communities to be more receptive to development,
but such incentives, including the New Homes Bonus and the Community
Infrastructure Levy, may not have such an effect.
This point was summarised by the Planning Officers Society:
One of the biggest untested assumption in the
Framework is [
] the willingness of communities to deliver
the amounts of growth the Government wants to see, incentivised
by Community Infrastructure Levy, the New Homes Bonus and the
new freedoms promised by localism. We have seen plenty of examples
of communities which are willing to spend considerable sums of
their own money to prevent development, and we are not necessarily
convinced that the new incentives will lead to a sudden dramatic
reversal of public opinion.
110. Mike Holmes, of the Planning Officers Society,
told us that the main reason why people will get involved in formulating
Neighbourhood Plans will be to stop development, rather than to
bring forward more development, which highlights the fundamental
tension between the principles of localism and growth:
Where are the areas where people are looking
forward to do their Neighbourhood Plans to bring forward more
development? Talking to members of the Planning Officers Society,
we cannot identify many of these; in fact, the opposite. The approaches
that have been made to local authorities are often based on trying
to stop development or shape it in a way that will not bring the
development forward. So there is a real tension there [...] which
is not really brought out or acknowledged in the NPPF as it is
111. Further clarification is also needed on how
detailed Neighbourhood Plans need to be and whether there is an
option for a very brief Neighbourhood Plana 'Neighbourhood
Plan lite'which may list only a few items. Trudi Elliot
from RTPI told us that, under the existing planning system, there
are "about 20 different planning tools that communities can
use to help them shape their community", but that the Localism
Act makes neighbourhood planning "heavy" and "quite
112. The LGA called for the document's 'core planning
principles' to include an "explicit and unequivocal"
reference to localism and the discretion of local communities.
However, Cllr Porter admitted that "expectations certainly
have been raised that people will have a greater control over
their own destinies", but said that, as long as enough time
is given to ensure Local Plans are in place, such control will
be granted. The
Institution of Civil Engineers wrote that it is "uncertain
that the draft NPPF recognises that some Local Plans may, for
good reasons, decide that some forms of sustainable development
are not desirable in specific locations. In such cases, which
The relationship between the NPPF, Local Plans and Neighbourhood
Plans needs to be set out clearly and cogently within the body
of the NPPF, including the way in which strategic and local priorities
are to be taken into account, especially when these priorities
conflict. The NPPF must clarify whether the Local Plan or the
Neighbourhood Plan takes precedence. It should also define what
constitutes 'strategic issues'. The NPPF should confirm that,
in all planning decisions, it is a well-evidenced Local Plan that
provides the operational expression of the general presumption
in favour of sustainable development.
The duty to co-operate and evidence
bases for Local Plans
113. Section 110 of the Localism Act 2011 imposes
a 'duty to co-operate' on local planning authorities in preparing
plans when relating to 'strategic' matters that would have a significant
impact on at least two planning areas.
Further detail on the duty is contained in the draft NPPF, which
states that Local Plans should seek to meet unmet development
and infrastructure requirements from neighbouring authorities
"where it is practical to do so."
The independent examination of plan documents for their 'soundness'
will include an assessment of whether the planning authority has
complied with the duty. John Rhodes commented that he did not
believe this element of compulsion would need to be employed very
often, "because planning authorities naturally do want to
plan what is required for their areas, including cross-boundary
stuff. They do it very well."
The LGA stated that there were already numerous examples of councils
working together strategically.
114. Not everyone was convinced, however, that the
duty to co-operate would be an adequate replacement for the 'larger
than local' view of planning hitherto provided by Regional Spatial
Rail Freight Group predicted that while "diligent, pro-growth
authorities are likely to take this duty seriously", others
would merely "pay lip service" to it.
The Group was concerned about how effectively the duty would support
developments whose benefits were regional or national, but have
disbenefits that were mostly felt locally.
Stuart Hylton of the Planning Officers Society noted that "a
duty to co-operate is not the same thing as a duty to agree",
and argued it was wrong to assume "that agreement is always
there for the reaching, if you just consult each other hard enough".
The UK Environmental Law Association predicted that, under the
new system, "the problem will come with issues where no authority
wants to take the leadfor instance, gypsy site provision
in the South East, or the need for an urban extension into neighbouring
Many witnesses were concerned by the lack of sanctions for any
local authority that declined to co-operate with others, especially
as the control mechanism proposedthe power of the Planning
Inspectorate to find a plan unsoundcould in theory end
up penalising a local authority which, through no fault of its
own, has been unable to persuade its neighbours to co-operate.
Furthermore, this control mechanism would only come into play
at a very late stage of the plan formulation process.
Short of the Inspector judging a plan to be unsound, we see no
other sanction in the process.
115. The draft Framework states that Local Plans
must be based on "adequate, up-to-date and relevant evidence".
The range of topics on which such evidence must be assembled is
potentially very large, and relates to matters on which co-operation
will be necessary, as well as matters solely within one authority's
area. Strategic prioritiesthose on which local planning
authorities will have a duty to co-operateare listed in
the draft NPPF; they include housing and economic development
requirements, the provision of infrastructure for transport, minerals,
waste, energy, communications and health, climate change mitigation
and adaptation, and protection and enhancement of the natural
and historic environment.
Consultancy Arup questioned whether local authorities individually
or in groups would have the necessary evidence on which to make
reasoned judgments on such issues.
Dr Hugh Ellis of the Town and Country Planning Association noted
that Regional Spatial Strategies had previously provided data
sets relating to climate change, energy and demographics, and
he argued that this information would be missed in future efforts
to co-operate on strategic matters.
Barratt Developments plc considered that the constitution of an
evidence base for Local Plans was one of the NPPF policies on
which more detail would be required.
116. The draft
NPPF states that local planning authorities
should "use an evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan
meets the full requirements for market and affordable housing
in the housing market area".
Elsewhere in the document the need for local authorities to prepare
Strategic Housing Market Assessments (SHMAs) and Strategic Housing
Land Availability Assessments is referred to.
Groups of practitioners have been encouraged to work together
to produce guidance on how to compile the necessary evidence base;
Cllr Gary Porter predicted that "there may well be two or
three slightly competing sets of guidance we could use, and councils
will be able to choose the guidance that most appropriately fits
The Planning Officers Society, however, expressed the view that
a common approach would be beneficial, particularly in terms of
saving time and money, and local authorities could then be given
the opportunity to justify taking a different approach.
McCarthy & Stone, a provider of retirement housing, commented
that at present SHMAs vary greatly in quality "and in our
experience they are often deficient".
Roger Harding, Shelter's Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs,
also argued that there was a needand demandfor a
clearer, consistent methodology for assessing housing need at
a local level:
If you are all using a similar methodology, you
can understand the trade-offs, and it facilitates the discussions
that need to happen between neighbouring local authorities as
to where housing is going to be built, particularly if one local
authority has some significant land-supply constraints. It also
helps people hold their local authority to account. [... There]
is a danger that, if [councils] feel they are going to be unable
or unwilling to deliver more housing, they could use a definition
of housing need that produces a somewhat lower figure than is
the actual reality on the ground.
The National Housing Federation suggested that each
housing needs assessment should itself be subject to a soundness
test as part of the Local Plan examination process.
117. Consistency between local authorities in
assembling evidence bases for Local Plans is crucial to the effective
functioning of the duty to co-operate. While we understand that
the Government believes the Duty to Co-operate contained in the
Localism Act 2011 coupled with other developments such as the
creation of Local Enterprise Partnerships will ensure that spatial
planning is adequately addressed, we share some of these concerns.
Without consistency, it will not be clear what benchmark the Planning
Inspectorate will use for judging the 'soundness' of plans, especially
when neighbouring local authorities have been unable to reach
agreement about the need for or location of new housing. Therefore
we recommend that the guidance being produced by practitioners
on assembling an evidence base for housing be officially adopted
by the Government. We also recommend that the Government commission
groups of practitioners to produce similar, authoritative guidance
on assessing needs for other types of infrastructure.
118. Waiting until and relying upon the Planning
Inspectorate's judgement about 'soundness' seems to us an inadequate
means of enforcing the duty to co-operate. We consider that the
Government should set out an alternative means of ensuring that
local authorities demonstrate successful outcomes from their co-operation.
This alternative method should be informed by a report from the
Planning Inspectorate on the existing degree of co-operation in
development plans and, thereafter, by an annual report on the
effectiveness of section 110 of the Localism Act in respect of
119. Finally, it was clear to us that the absence
of Local Plans was a contributory factor to the shortage of homes
that have been built over many decades in England, and it is reasonable
to expect that a requirement on local authorities to adopt Local
Plans based on sound evidence of need will help facilitate an
improvement to this situation.
176 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, section
Draft NPPF, para 14 Back
Draft NPPF, para 19 Back
Q 58 Back
Q 190 Back
Q 19 Back
Draft NPPF, para 19 Back
HC Deb, 20 October 2011, col 1080 Back
HC Deb, 5 September 2011, col 12 Back
Q 308 Back
Qq 90, 11 Back
Q 19 Back
Ev w45 Back
Ev w27 Back
Q 164 Back
Draft NPPF, para 50 Back
Q 62 Back
Ev 113 Back
Q 137 Back
Draft NPPF, para 50 Back
Draft NPPF, para 51 Back
Ev w6 Back
Q 195 Back
Ev 155 Back
Ev w212 Back
Ev 115 Back
Q 137 Back
Q 294 Back
Ev 116 Back
Q 151 Back
Ev w213 Back
Localism Act 2011 section 110; see our Second Report of Session
2010-12, Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning
vacuum?, HC 517, para 72, for this Committee's views on the
Duty to Co-operate as set out in the Localism Bill. Back
Localism Act 2011, section 110; Draft NPPF, paras 44 to
Q 40 Back
Ev 119 Back
Ev w95, Ev 114, Q 61 Back
Ev w96 Back
Ev w95 Back
Q 174; see also Ev w150; see also Ev w107. Back
Ev w156 Back
Ev w63; Ev w150; Ev w20; Q 61 Back
Ev w159 Back
Draft NPPF, para 27 Back
Draft NPPF, para 23 Back
Ev w129 Back
Q 61 Back
Ev w49 Back
Draft NPPF, para 109 Back
Draft NPPF, para 28 Back
Ev 149; Q 157 Back
Q 157 Back
Q 169 Back
Ev w4 Back
Q 236; see also Ev w1 [David Holmes], Ev w83 [Highbury Group on
Housing Delivery] Back
Q 237 Back
Ev w247, w250 Back