One of the side effects of the recent Conservative leadership election has been uncertainty about the Government’s future planning policy approach, that has resulted in a number of authorities across the country delaying or pausing the preparation of Local Plans. This was already happening as long anticipated changes to the planning system heralded in the Planning for the Future White Paper have been delayed.

Stalled Local and Strategic Plans

Over the last two years there has been a rapid increase in the number of local planning authorities abandoning, pausing, delaying or withdrawing plans. Research by Pegasus Group shows that since May 2019 some 26 local authorities have stalled Local Plans and four Strategic Plans have been delayed – affecting an additional 17 authorities.

Regionally the picture is:

  • South East – 11 stalled local plans and one strategic plan;
  • East of England – seven stalled local plans and one strategic plan;
  • South West – two stalled local plans and two strategic plans;
  • East Midlands – three stalled plans;
  • Yorkshire and Humber – one stalled plan;
  • North West – one stalled plan;
  • North East – one stalled plan.

The problem has a southern focus with many being green belt authorities delaying plans in the hope that the approach to establishing future housing requirements nationally will change. The research shows that some 13% of authorities have stalled plans across the country, of which 69% are Green Belt authorities. In the south east this figure increases to 24% of authorities that have a stalled local plan.

Evidence from the Planning Inspectorate shows that the number of plans adopted last year (16) was the lowest since the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in 2012. Until changes to the planning system are clear and implemented, there is likely to be slow progress on local plan preparation for some time.

Why is this a problem?

In England and Wales, we have a ‘plan-led’ system with the local plan providing the starting point for planning decisions. This benefits all stakeholders by providing certainty in planning decisions and ensuring a continuing pipeline of new housing sites are allocated through local plans and then delivered through planning applications.

In a letter to local authorities in November 2021, Joanna Averly, Chief Planner at the Department for Levelling Up, Communities and Local Government, re-emphasised the Government’s commitment to plan making.

‘91% of local planning authorities have now adopted a Local Plan, but we know that many of them are not being kept up to date. In March 2020, the Government set a clear deadline of December 2023 for all authorities to have up to-date Local Plans in place. It is critical that work should continue to advance Local Plans through to adoption by the end of 2023 to help ensure that the economy can rebound strongly from the COVID19 pandemic. Completing Local Plans will help to ensure that we can build back better and continue to deliver the homes that are needed across England.’

Joanna Averly, November 2021

At the recent Residential Planning Conference in London, Joanna has again called on local authorities not to delay plan making.

These delays and uncertainty are not helpful and risk a slow down in housebuilding as sites for housing are not progressed through local plans, leaving developers with the risk of progressing sites through speculative applications and appeals.

The need for the Government to progress planning reforms quickly is all the more urgent.

This article was jointly written by Guy Longley, Executive Director and Clare Clarke, Associate Planner, from our East Midlands office. For more information about the contents of this article, please contact us.