Local Plans & LURB: The Position on Transition

At PAS I organise and manage the support for councils making Local Plans. My main Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill interest is the transitional arrangements – how will councils be guided into the new system? The effectiveness of the support PAS provides hangs on understanding this. Word has it that these the transitional arrangements are hurriedly being finalised so hopefully we’ll see something soon.

While I wait, and to shape my thoughts, I’ve set out in simple terms below what I think the main scenarios/questions facing councils are. I hope to use this as a frame for thinking about the kinds of support councils might need and to get some wider (and hopefully better) views.

For most councils the questions will be: ‘what does this mean for our Local Plan?’ and ‘should we continue working on our local plan?‘. The answer how to proceed will reflect where you are in the plan making process.

The government is encouraging councils to get (‘current system’) plans in place asap, with Housing Minister Stuart Andrew recently acknowledging “….that work will be valuable work anyway”.

The government has also said alongside the Bill:

  “To incentivise plan production further and ensure that newly produced plans are not undermined, our intention is to remove the requirement for authorities to maintain a rolling five-year supply of deliverable land for housing, where their plan is up to date, i.e., adopted within the past five years. This will curb perceived ‘speculative development’ and ‘planning by appeal’, so long as plans are kept up to date. We will consult on changes to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework.”

This 5 year land supply thing is significant I wonder if this refers to plans being made now? There are 4 main transition scenarios and questions facing local planning authorities as I see it: 

Scenario 1 – The Local Plan has been submitted for, or is at examination right now

  • Key questions:
    • If found sound, will our plan be ‘up to date’ in terms of not requiring a 5-year housing land supply?
    • Are we facing any increased risks due to the proposals in / statements made about the LURB e.g. our plan being withdrawn from examination or not being adopted even if it is found sound?
    • Will we be required to do an immediate review of our plan under the new system?
    • How will we be affected by the new data standard requirements?
    • When should we begin preparing our LURB local Plan?
    • How will the ‘weighting’ of National Development Plan Policy operate for us?

Scenario 2 – Local Plan production / update is advanced (e.g. at least at Reg 19 stage) and aiming for December 2023 adoption:

  • Key questions:
    • Will there be an advantage/incentive (outside of simply having an up to date plan in place) for continuing to work towards getting our plan adopted by December 2023? 
    • If found sound, will our plan be classed as up to date in terms of not requiring a 5-year housing land supply?
    • Are we facing any increased risks due to the proposals in the LURB e.g. a challenging timetable, Duty to Cooperate challenges, examination issues – could the plan be delayed in favour of the ‘new, simpler, quicker’ system?
    • How will we be affected by the new data standard requirements?
    • When should we begin preparing our LURB local Plan?
    • How will the ‘weighting’ of National Development Plan Policy operate for us?

Scenario 3 – Local Plan production / review advanced, adoption planned for 2024

  • Key questions:
    • Will there be a transition period that allows us to continue preparing our plan under the current system post e.g. December 2023?
    • How much of the work we have, and are preparing to undertake will not be required or not fit for purpose post reforms e.g. when will data standards and new Sustainability Appraisal (Environmental Outcomes Report) requirements affect the work we’ve already done?
    • The Infrastructure Levy will change the way we plan for affordable housing and other infrastructure requirements to support development through planning policy. How do we take account of this?
    • What is the risk of us pausing to enable us to prepare a plan under the new system?
    • How will the ‘weighting’ of National Development Plan Policy operate for us?

 Scenario 4 – Not currently reviewing the Local Plan / early thinking.

  • Key questions:
    • How much work do we do while we await the transitional details?
    • What can we start doing now?
    • How do we work with Government to engage in the “Test” and “Learn” approach to some areas of reform?

Once we understand more on this we can begin to build our support programme. Many practical things aren’t going to change – the need for good project management, effective work on strategic issues, good evidence bases and effective engagmnent of members – so the focus of our current support work will roll on for a while.

Help me look ahead – I’m bound to have missed some key questions and scenarios – help me build a better picture.


Local Plans, White Paper, Transition – which way to jump?

“I love to talk about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about.”
― Oscar Wilde

I’ve learned during my time at Planning Advisory Service (PAS), that whenever big changes are afoot that it’s best to leave the ‘hot takes’ to the clever bloggers and tweeters, and to sit back, listen, and then reflect. We dance very carefully between helping local planning authorities (LPAs) understand and respond to change and how much (or usually little) civil servants are at liberty to tell us about the factors that will affect their choices. 
I’ll leave others to trade blows over the imagined planning system utopia/dystopia, to focus on the very real and practical ‘today’ issue that LPAs are asking us for a steer on – ‘should we carry on with our plan production under the current system?’ – not an unreasonable question when you consider the cost and resources involved in creating a local plan, the many different stages councils are at, and that a complete re-writing of the planning system as we know it is being heralded.

The answer (today) is ‘Yes’…
A qualified, multi-layered ‘yes’. A few versions of ‘yes’. An ‘it’s still only a consultation’ yes. Have I layed that on thick enough? When you consider the potential answers and the potential implications this all becomes truly mesmerising. It feels like folly to even think about these potential answers while what we have is ‘only’ a consultation; nothing is set in stone (yes I know that sounds naive), and with 300 odd LPAs there could be 300 or so different scenarios. To make it easier on myself I have simplified things by making a few assumptions based on what I ‘know’.

Is 2023 still relevant to plan making?
The government was clear from the very start of the Covid-19 lockdown that the 2023 deadline for councils to have an up to date plan remains. There’s nothing in the White Paper and the comments from Ministers about the 2023 deadline – this suggests that this is still a hard deadline that councils are expected to meet. To labour a previous point, we are still operating in the current planning system – nothing has changed. It didn’t change for Covid-19 and there is no mention of it changing for the White Paper.

What do we know?
The White Paper tells us:

  • New local plans are to be produced within 30 months of legislation coming into force, or 42 months if the local plan was adopted in the 3 years prior to legislation coming into force;
  • All LPAs to have ‘new style’ local plans ‘to be in place by the end of ‘the parliament’ (Planning For The Future page 74); assuming they mean this parliament i.e. May 2024.

The current planning system tells us: All LPAs to have up to date (‘current system’) local plans in place by 2023.

What does this mean?
To get a ‘new system’ local plan in place by May 2024, legislation will have to be in force by December 2021 (just go with it – I’m no expert on the Fixed Term Parliament Act). Councils find themselves in one of 5 main scenarios:


ScenarioNew style plan required byoptions on what to do?
Current Plan will be more than 3 but less than 5 years old in Dec 2021, no plans to review it.May-24Make a new style plan once the new legislation is in force.
Current Plan will be less than 3 years old in Dec 2021, no plans to review it.May-25Make a new style plan once the new legislation is in force.
Reviewing plan and LDS Adoption date is on or before Dec 2021May-25Finish current plan to meet 2023 deadline, start new plan when legislation is in force.
Reviewing plan and LDS Adoption date is between Dec 2021 and end 2023, current plan over 3 years old in Dec 2021May-24Finish current plan to meet 2023 deadline, start new plan when legislation in force.
Reviewing plan and Adoption date is between Dec 2021 and end 2023, current plan less than 3 years old in Dec 2021May-25Finish current plan, start new plan when legislation in force.
Over-riding scenario: assume Legislation is in force by Dec 2021

This means that some councils could be starting to make their ‘new style’ plan while still finishing their old one. It could also mean that hundreds of councils will be making plans in sync – is the Planning Inspectorate ready for this? Can a new planning system really be delivered in this way and in this timeframe?

Could this all result in a colossal waste of time?
Glass half-full time; let’s talk about opportunities and investment. Whatever happens, councils need up-to-date frameworks for making decisions, and work being undertaken now will all be relevant preparation and monitoring to feed in to the next version of our local plans whatever form they take. If you are early on in the process of plan making/review then it is probably worth considering how your plan proposals might look in the proposed new system. There is nothing to stop you thinking about how your area might look categorised as growth, renewal, protection. Why not start thinking about a more rationalised evidence base? And, one of the things that isn’t going to change is the march of the digital planning system – there are many already advanced projects looking at local plans and back office systems that councils can test and help develop – talk to us at PAS, our friends in MHCLG digital land team or LocalDigital about how you can get involved. 

And remember, we still have 2023 and with that remains the current system of intervention, presumption etc.

A many-layered cake
Setting out the above is in many ways the simple bit. There are lots of nuances and details that define each council’s position. For example, those councils currently early on in the plan preparation stage / approaching Reg 18 consultation were already questioning the relevance of their evidence base due to the effects of the pandemic, and can now see the prospect that the type/weight of evidence they are working on/commissioning may not even be a requirement in the new system.

Then there are those at Reg 19 and beyond who broadly seem to be intending to carry on, but even these councils are being questioned by politicians as to the wisdom of continuing until the potential implications of the White Paper are fully understood.  

If only it was just the White Paper proposals LPAs that were feeding this question.  Layered onto this is the post/ongoing Covid-19 impact on transport/retail/town centres, values and viability, the recent changes to the Use Class Order, the new standard method for calculating housing need, PD changes and we also have the Local Government Devolution White Paper. Shall I also mention the Green Restart / Climate Emergency? 

So, the answer (today) is ‘Yes’ – keep making local plans
Yes, a qualified, multi-layered ‘yes’ to keeping going with your ‘current system’ local plan preparation/review if you are in the middle of it or planning to do so before December 2021. And don’t forget of course that all of the above could (and probably will) be shot to pieces as each day goes by.

Remember – it’s a consultation…
None of the above is true. Pure speculation on my part.  Nothing has changed yet. LOTS to be discussed, ironed out, explained and shaped, and can this all really be ready to go in December next year? For such fundamental proposals to take hold across the system, for local plans to be re-written, for ‘culture change’ to take hold it will be 5 -10 years before any new national system is properly established won’t it?

What can’t be disputed/hasn’t changed is that councils need an up to date framework in place for making planning decisions while we wait to find out what the new system looks like and proper and clear transitional arrangements are in place.  

What is PAS doing?
Massive change is going to happen. Local councils have to respond, and carry on.
We will be supporting the consultation process with a series of events from mid-September, and more generally we are planning to provide support to councils with weighing up their options on ‘which way and how to jump’, and once they are decided, help with some of the practical plan making implications. Which, if I am right about the above, will mean ‘blended’ support around the traditional current system plan making requirements and helping prepare to deliver a ‘new system’ Local Plan. 

Digital Local Plans – Flintstones before Jetsons

For a while now PlanTech projects have been making steady progress e.g. digital front/back-offices, validation systems, evidence bases and recently PAS team completed an ‘Alpha’ project on digital data standards for local plans with colleagues at Dxw. Having had our digital appetites whetted, we’re giving ourselves a bit of room to use what we’ve learned so far to explore what might be around the corner for “digital local plans” (a ‘Beta’ project maybe?) and whether we should (or could) do something to help.

Starting in the right place
As a starting point we are asking ourselves whether we know (or even have some nouns to describe) what a digital local plan is, what it’s made of and how it might be packaged. There is no shortage of those that agree that a digital plan is a good idea and plenty of people including ourselves “imagining if it did this…” or wondering “wouldn’t it be great if it did that…”. but there aren’t that many clear articulations out there of what is a “digital local plan”? Who it is for? and How is it better? It needs to have a clear purpose and benefits and once we understand this, we can begin to establish the steps involved in actually making one.

The near future
We’ve found it quite easy to wave our arms around and imagine the bright shiny future – but digital plan utopia is probably 10 years away. We want to understand what the near future looks like and involves – what should we start doing now and over the next 3 years as we move from PDF files to… ? How are we going to use and access a digital plan – controlling land use using data may fit naturally and ultimately onto some kind of map but local plans are about much more e.g. where do things like the “vision” etc. live, and how, practically, do we shift from 5 year plan reviews to working with a plan that is ‘living’ and dynamic?

A practical, pragmatic approach
During August we’re bringing a few people together to start to build a consensus. We have a suspicion that the “sprint method” that we are all starting to become comfortable with – the post it notes, the discovery / alpha / beta, the “user experience” and even the slack channel – means we may not spend enough time on thinking and talking. Some services are deep and haven’t been really thought about for decades.

Our starting point therefore is to bring together some practical and pragmatic people and have a chat. We want to kick around some difficult questions with a small group we trust and see what happens. And, perhaps, when we know how local government understands the domain and its own needs, we can expand the circle out.  For now this is all quite low-key, and if it has legs it will ultimately be something we do in public.

Climate Emergency – Opportunity from Risk

I’m trying to put together a package of support to meet a growing demand from Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) for help in understanding ‘what good likes like’ when it comes to local plans and climate change. I’ve discussed this with planners, climate change and sustainability experts, local politicians and lawyers – all with a view to understanding how PAS might help.

I have found it both fascinating and difficult in equal measure; fascinating as there’s no end to the scope of this agenda, and difficult for similar reasons – where do you focus, and how do you create an effective local plan response that is more than a set of ‘green-washed’ policies? Or risks failing the tests of soundness at an examination?

I thought I’d set out what I’ve learned, what is driving this increased demand for support, the potential solutions and why now is a good time for PAS to do something.  

Nothing’s new but everything’s changing…
The current conversations about a ‘green recovery’ are an obvious hook for any piece about climate change, but my starting point is before we’d even heard of Covid-19. Let’s go back to May 2019.

2019 was a watershed year for climate change – following many towns and cities across the UK, Parliament declared a climate emergency (the first national legislative body to do so) and set an enhanced national target of achieving zero net carbon emissions by 2050. Over a third of councils have now declared their own emergency and many have set themselves even more ambitious timetables.

Many councils are still working out the detail of what their climate emergency declaration actually means (here’s an idea), but bold statements/promises have been made and invariably it is the local plan and planning teams that councils are looking to for the ‘response’. Last September, sensing some lethargy, the climate lawyers ClientEarth wrote to senior local councillors reminding them of the Local Plan’s legal obligations in supporting the delivery of the National climate change policy and targets.

Not another ‘one silo train’
None of this is new. Planners understand how to write local plans for sustainable development – it’s implicit in the plan-making process and discipline that the plan will consider, mitigate and adapt to climate change.

What has changed, and needs a response, is the environment that planners find themselves working in – this agenda has significantly ‘ramped’ up. LPAs need support to manage the increasing and accelerating expectations of their councillors and communities – who need a better understanding of the agenda and what can be achieved through the local plan, and to manage risk in the process as more and more interest groups get involved with the local plan examination process.

At the heart of this are two questions: how far can/could/should the local plan go, and how would you evidence more ambitious policies when (in most places) climate change expertise and experience at a local level is thin on the ground?

What risk does this present ?
There are 3 broad scenarios for LPAs. There are those for whom the council’s climate emergency declaration has happened close to or just after the local plan has been published. As they head towards examination – they are asking whether their plan now goes far enough, how to explain its limitations to councillors (many of whom were elected or are pinning re-election hopes on a ‘green ticket’), and whether an early review will be required. There are those that are about to publish their plan and are under increasing pressure to ‘go further’ – their concern is how changes might impact the timetable to adoption. And then there are those still early in the process, getting on with it but keen to quickly learn about what does/doesn’t work from their peers.

What should the support do and where should it focus?
In my mind the challenge boils down to how to get the most effective plan in place while reducing risk and saving time – classic PAS territory. There are 4 broad areas that local plans need to focus/strengthen:

  1. Stronger and clearer links to corporate climate change priorities, plans and targets;
  2. Developing a strong evidence base and better-aligned sustainability appraisal;
  3. Writing effective and challenging policy;
  4. Measurement – setting baseline, better monitoring and reporting methods;

New territory for many.  

Below I have set out my ideas to help pull all of this together. Truth is, I am still deciding what it looks like – but I never let a lack of a completely clear end-game prevent me starting something (momentum is the best way of achieving inspiration in my book). I am working on the following broad ideas to support plan-makers:

  • Engaging and training councillors and communities – Approaches to establishing a common understanding between councillors, communities and officers – what climate emergency means, and which policy options to explore, prioritise and fund;  
  • What does good look like? – Sharing examples of effective engagement, regional collaboration, evidence assembly and policy writing from the most forward-thinking councils;
  • ‘Climate Change Challenge’ – Creating some short, sharp ‘challenges’ to the early stages of the plan production process and then between Reg 18/19 to give LPAs an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of their plan/policies (and perhaps better scoped and aligned Sustainability Appraisals);  
  • One place for good practice, guidance and examples – There is a dearth of good information, guidance, ideas and training out there but not everyone is aware of it, what it can do and where it applies. I’d like to gather this into one place and arrange it to reflect the different requirements and stages of the plan making process;
  • Access to the experts – Understanding the work and objectives of organisations involved in the fields of digitalisation/PlanTech, sustainable/modern methods of construction, decarbonised heating, climate change law and social justice. We’ll also look at closer collaborations with our peer organisations such as TCPA / RTPI / POS / CPRE;
  • Creating a support and knowledge-sharing network for frontline climate change plan makers.

Not straight-forward
Plan making can be complex and resource intensive. I understand the temptation to keep climate change issues at arms-length and to focus on the imperative to deliver housing numbers. Add to this issues of viability and all of the uncertainty/confusion about how far policy can push on energy performance/efficiency, and the task can seem quite daunting. I get it, and an overarching objective of this support is to share resources and build the capacity and confidence of a larger number of councils to push for the highest standards as a starting point.

Creating opportunity from risk
Two thirds of councils that have declared a climate emergency. They all need a credible corporate strategy and local plan to respond and deliver on it. This presents an interesting leadership opportunity. Can planning leverage increased corporate and political expectations to gain the required support and resources, and then create the evidence base and ambitious policy that will allow the local plan to push the boundaries on climate change? There’s arguably never been a better time to be as ambitious as we can be. 

Vision / Place Making
While I am looking at supporting LPAs with their imediate plan-making requirements, I don’t want to lose sight of the importance of having longer-term strategic approaches to ‘place’ as this is how the most significant impacts can be achieved.

Take viability (please, take it) – the impacts we can achieve by driving quality up/carbon emissions down using better design and more ambitious energy efficiency standards, while effective, result in the arguments and surrounding conversations about viability focusing at a housing unit level. Whereas when we are establishing, with our communities, visions at the level of ‘place’, climate change mitigation across the whole piece can be ‘designed-in’ from the very beginning. By creating places that consider the impact of where people live on how (and where) they have to travel to work, study, shop, relax and play, sustainability is built-in from the start.

Bringing everyone with us
According to the UK Green Building Council (UKGBC), around 10% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions are directly associated with construction activities. The number rises to 45% when considering the whole of the built environment sector. This is an issue for planning, developers, builders, and architects not to mention supply chains and emerging new technology.

It’s a vast and interesting agenda, lots of players, lots of legislation, lots of good guidance – and lots of good intentions. But what could and should LPAs do to seize this agenda and get local plans at the forefront of delivering a zero-carbon future?

My view is that while it is far too big and complicated an area for planning to solve by itself, it is an opportunity for local government planning to show leadership and a united front, pushing local plans as far as they can go, and working with the development industry – pushing back on the appeals and working through the viability issues.

Right time – right thing to do?
It feels like the right time for PAS to help build on and support the plan-making work that councils are already doing and to try and link up with and learn from the best in the development sector. If there is one thing that this pandemic can teach us, it’s that you can never be too prepared or act too early in an emergency.

The support package I am planning to develop is a small but hopefully powerful start. Let me know if you think it’ll help and how it can be improved.   

Neither big nor clever

Your Local Development Scheme. A pain? A millstone? An enigma wrapped inside a tissue of lies? It doesn’t have to be any of those things. All you have to do is get a page on your website which puts the formal stages up and, usefully, any forthcoming consultations. Then, set out when you’re planning to meet them and….that’s it. Yes, really!

If you have to change it, just alter it and show how it has changed. You could even try seasons for things in later stages.

So why is it that so many authorities keep republishing 10, 20 or 30 plus pages? They lovingly describe the heartbreaking lack of progress to date, the endless consult-a-go-rounds that have happened since 2010. They highlight that wonderful period from 2011 to 2015 when you were ‘going through the representations’ before returning to a ‘further additional extra this time I know it’s for real’ preferred options (with time allowed for further modifications). There are pages and pages about documents already adopted and usually lots of legal gumph about prescribed periods and out of date regulation numbers.

So, that’s the LDS. Make it a ‘one-page web-page next-bus-style announcement using seasons not months’.

But how do you know you’re getting close to getting that assessment of time right? What lies beneath? How will you make sure you meet those milestones so that when DCLG come calling you can tell them….that everything is on track, thank you for the interest.

At PAS, we have been looking at the main reasons where slippage has occurred. Whilst there is a chance that in some cases, it would have been almost impossible to avoid, it is almost always possible to see it coming.

So, to give you every chance of planning ahead, setting and agreeing a timetable that can withstand the forces of evil that seek to derail, we have come up with….a sort of a table and a chart and some words.

It isn’t big, just like your LDS shouldn’t be, and it isn’t particularly clever, just like the person who wrote it. It’s just something for you to be able to refer to, to take a breath and just scan the horizon. Take stock of what you have, assess what you need, and understand who to involve and when.

It’s available to all our subscribers, and open for comments from you to suggest improvements. Many thanks to the people who helped us to make it by contributing their thoughts and coming along to the event.

Old dog, same tricks

PAS is supporting authorities in getting their plans in place. I have spoken to over 100 authorities over the past few months. So what? Well, one key phrase I’m hearing is “of course we have had to stop work on the core strategy to see how we can turn it into a local plan”. The following is not a criticism of any of those authorities, but I want to just throw this out here:

Your core strategy IS your local plan.

A local plan is not a Continue reading