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Research by Optimis Consulting highlights issues with Local Plan preparation

The Government’s latest proposed planning reforms in the HM Treasury Report “Fixing the Foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation” reinforce the importance of the development plan in meeting the full need for housing across the country. Repeated delays to plan preparation and uncertainty over the level and location of new development are a risk to all parties. Ten authorities across the south-east and south-midlands recently reviewed by Optimis Consulting reveal that none has an up-to-date plan with timescales for potential adoption extending to 2018 in some cases.

This situation provides good opportunities for speculative applications where development prospects are strong and in the absence of a Five Year Land Supply. However, there are wider risks of an adversarial climate for any proposals; reflected in increased development costs, the prospect of appeals and difficulty in securing wider community benefits. Local Plan preparation offers strong prospects to identify and realise new development opportunities. Promoters can benefit with early engagement with the Council to introduce potential schemes and we advocate Council’s completing the steps to define preferred allocations more quickly to provide certainty to the industry.

Our research highlights common themes that prevent crucial milestones to prepare new plans being met. Critical flaws and changing circumstances frequently de-rail the process. Perhaps as a result of not planning sufficiently positively in the first instance, the latest CLG sub-national household projections (released in February 2015) commonly indicate increased requirements relative to authorities’ emerging plans. It is also increasingly important that provision in plans is capable of providing sufficient affordable housing. Specific supply such as care homes should also not be mis-counted as part of the general housing need. This surely emphasises that emerging plans should contain sufficient headroom and contingency to reflect the ongoing worsening of the housing crisis?

It is also significant that the number of Neighbourhood Plans being prepared continues to increase. Where additional housing sites need to be identified, local authorities appear to be placing increasing emphasis on local communities identifying suitable locations in their Neighbourhood Plan. A key caveat in our view is that strategies must not overlook the capacity for growth in settlements where there is no Neighbourhood Plan. However, scope to secure mutual benefits such as new community infrastructure through this approach is to be supported and may enable new opportunities for development.

Recent evidence reveals the importance of the Government’s commitment to strengthen the “Duty to Cooperate” on key issues. This is to ensure that authorities can seek to meet their full needs as far as possible within constraints and work with others when required to do so. These moves are welcomed and may help these conclusions on cooperation to be reached sooner. Recent findings show that councils face dilemmas where some aspects of key evidence are complete whilst other important decisions regarding the relationship with neighbouring authorities or the requirement to review the Green Belt are ongoing. As in the case of Aylesbury Vale, there are often competing demands from adjoining rural districts and major centres such as Milton Keynes.

Our broad understanding of the Local Plan process and the position of specific authorities across England provides the foundation for advising on projects whatever the development plan context. Please contact us for further advice and to assist with identifying the best strategy based on the location of your interests.

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