What you’ll get from our planning reform events – spoiler alert!

No matter how hard we try we will never be able to answer all of your questions about planning reform. We held a ‘dry run’ event this week to check that the presentations in our upcoming event series will meet audience expectations. The events are packed full of speakers with different perspectives on changes to the planning system. We’re contrasting the government line with challenging opinions and a good mix of people doing the work on the ground.

Despite my best efforts to balance breadth and depth of content, we still had feedback after the dry run requesting more information but warning us to keep to time. We won’t be able to cover every aspect of planning reform. The idea is that delegates will understand the implications of not having a plan in place and what they can do to ensure their plan is ‘up-to-date’. This event series is an update on what we know now with some hints and tips about how to prepare for the upcoming changes.

DCLG, PINS, TCPA, and a PAS consultant all gave the presentations that they have prepared for the event series. The most popular presentation by far was the councillor’s perspective on localism and growth. Councillor Dorothy Thornhill’s message came across loud and clear: “ignore us at your peril!” Councillors have an important role to play in the new planning system and this session will explore this role from a politician’s point of view.

Each event in the series will have an additional three presentations from local authority officers – including a chief executive, a planning officer working on sub-regional issues and a neighbourhood planning frontrunner.

The planning topics drawing the most interest were discussed during the PINS presentation. The duty to cooperate, the certificate of conformity and what makes a plan ‘up-to-date’ are aspects of planning reform that have seen a lot of action on our online discussion forum. Although, some of these are still being ironed out by DCLG, we did get some hints as to how things might work in practice. The highlights as I understand them are as follows:

Duty to cooperate: This can take many forms, including: a joint core strategy, joint working or a memorandum of understanding. There is scope to use different means and mechanisms. But the ideal circumstance to meet this duty would be a joint core strategy or a commitment to joint working. The legislation is less rigorous than the draft NPPF on this topic.

Certificate of conformity: This is not mandatory. It isn’t clear yet who will be examining plans and issuing the certificate of conformity. Reading between the lines, there are issues about this certificate. An authority may be at risk if their plan is not in conformity with the NPPF. But equally, if an authority puts their plan forward for a certificate and it is not found to be in conformity, this will be publicly known…

‘Up-to-date’ plan: The draft NPPF is clear that without an up-to-date local plan an authority will have difficulty refusing applications for sustainable development in their area (i.e. development that is considered sustainable based on the definition in the draft NPPF). Making a comparison with the examination for CIL charging schedules, the authority decides whether the document is up-to-date. It could be similar for core strategies. The bottom line is, make sure your housing figures are up-to-date (within the last year).

If you are coming to any of our seven events you will see that we don’t know all of the answers yet. The Localism Bill and draft NPPF may have some significant changes. We are using a mixture of speakers to give you information about the likely changes to the planning system balanced with speakers (planning officers) who are already getting on with these changes.

We’ll be launching a publication along with these events that explains the significant reforms to chief executives. Planning officers can use this document to inform senior management about the risks and opportunities in the Bill and the draft NPPF. Councillors may also find this document a useful review of planning reform.

Acronyms (just in case a non-planner is reading this):
DCLG – Department for Communities and Local Government
PINS – The Planning Inspectorate
TCPA – Town and Country Planning Association
PAS – Planning Advisory Service
NPPF – National Planning Policy Framework
CIL – Community Infrastructure Levy

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