"Whilst the financial resources of local authorities continue to come under severe pressure, there must be a risk that costly Local Plan updates will be avoided where possible"
On 6 April a new regulation came into force creating a statutory requirement for Local Plans to be “reviewed” at least once every five years. At first glance, this appears to be a big step towards ensuring new Local Plans are put in place and updated on a regular basis.
The absence of up-to-date Local Plans allocating new sites and making necessary provisions for infrastructure has clearly been a contributing factor to the lack of delivery of well planned new development in many parts of the country over the last few years. For instance, in Essex only one planning authority out of 14 has completed a full review and adopted a new Local Plan since the NPPF was published in 2012. Some Local Plans in the county date from the 1990s. Measures to address this must be welcomed.
But what does the new requirement mean in practice?
The draft PPG suggests that plan making authorities must complete a review of their existing Plan and decide whether it needs to be updated within five years of adoption. Critically, it does not suggest that the Plan must be updated within the same five-year period – that can follow.
According to the draft PPG, local planning authorities will be awarded discretion in deciding whether their Plan needs to be updated. If they decide not to pursue an update, they are simply required to publish reasons for not doing so on their website. Their decision is not subject to consultation or independent review. The only ‘come back’ for developers taking a different view would appear to be via arguments mounted at appeal, where the policies in question affect a specific proposal.
Where an update to a Plan is taken forward, in whole or in part, it must follow the full plan-making procedure, including preparation, publication and independent examination, and it must be supported by up-to-date evidence.
The new requirement to update Local Plans every five years is welcomed as a measure that will help ensure Local Plans are updated more regularly, but the discretion given to local authorities to decide whether their Plan needs to be amended remains a concern. Whilst the financial resources of local authorities continue to come under severe pressure, there must be a risk that costly Local Plan updates will be avoided where possible. We hope to see the new provision given more teeth when the revised NPPF and accompanying PPG are published in final form, but this may prove to be wishful thinking.
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