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Two-thirds of councils have no up-to-date plan, suggests research

Words: Laura Edgar
Plans / Shutterstock: 101702500

Questions have been raised by a countryside charity regarding the government’s target for all councils to have an up-to-date local plan in place by 2023 after it found just a third of English councils have one.

CPRE’s What’s The Plan? report assesses local plans across England and challenges whether or not the system is “genuinely plan-led”.

It highlights that the majority of local planning authorities do have an adopted local plan (90 per cent) but 10 per cent do not, and most of them, except one development corporation, are relying on older policies from plans developed before 2004.

Only 40 per cent of local plans, however, are less than five years old, or have been updated or reviewed in the past five years. 

The research also found:

  • 30 per cent of local planning authorities can be considered up to date if using the definition that the council must be able to demonstrate that it has sufficient land identified in the plan for five years’ housing development.
  • Over 80 per cent of local planning authorities will need to review an existing plan – or adopt a new one – to meet the government’s proposed 2023 deadline.

Matt Thomson, head of land use and planning at CPRE, said the research “clearly disputes” claims by ministers that England’s planning system is plan-led.

“This is concerning, as local plans are essential to delivering high-quality and genuinely livable areas. Done well, local plans provide a vision for residents and investors alike. They also protect and enhance areas of countryside that are critical for our health and wellbeing, provide a haven for nature and are an asset in tackling the climate emergency.”

He explained that the report finds that national planning policies and the government’s tests for local plans make it “difficult” for councils to adopt plans, and even harder for plans to be defined as ‘up to date’. 

“Having an out-of-date plan risks losing local discretion over development proposals, so there’s already a massive pressure on councils. To turn this around, the government needs to give councils more support and consider how to redefine the test for plans being up to date in order to reinvigorate democratically accountable, locally led planning.”

What’s The Plan? sets out a number of recommendations that aim to support local authorities and the government to move to a “genuinely plan-led system” by the end of 2023:

  • The government should monitor and publish a summary of local plan coverage across England at least once a year.
  • The government should monitor local planning authorities’ housing land supply positions and consider improving the policy’s practicability.
  • Guidance should be produced for local planning authorities by the government on how to review and subsequently update a local plan, which is essential to enable local authorities to maintain up-to-date plans. 
  • The government should work more closely with the relevant local planning authorities to try to learn from these lessons and provide the necessary support to address the barriers they face in plan preparation and adoption. 
  • The government should help to simplify the landscape by providing a clear structure of statutory plan documents across England, which would improve usability and make it easier to monitor and maintain up-to-date plans.

An executive summary and the full report can be found on the CPRE website. 

Image credit | Shutterstock