Our comments must be read in the context of the three key omissions in this review – the proposed new alignment test, new National Development Management Policies, and a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
Firstly, whilst recent changes in the NPPF and its associated guidance has improved the spatial planning system from the point of view of strategic planning, POS considers this a job half done. Whilst the proposed local plan making reforms contain many good intentions and suggest some pragmatic solutions to the challenges encountered by the sector, it is fundamentally flawed.
This is because it makes no mention of the larger than local strategic issues which provides the context in which local plans must inevitably work in most places. We understand that government proposes to replace the legal ‘duty to cooperate’ with a new policy ‘alignment test’ but in the absence of any proposals it is impossible for us to comprehend how the new system will work in practice. After all, it is the difficulties that these larger than local strategic issues create which is the prime driver for delay and obfuscation in the local plan making process.
This is not only in relation to meeting housing needs but the lack of an effective approach to strategic planning is also having a significant impact on other key issues such as planning for and delivering strategic infrastructure (especially transport and energy infrastructure); managing strategic environmental and natural assets (especially impacts on water quality and supply); ability to level up socio-economic disparities; and, on the country’s ability to build climate resilience.
POS have advocated a much simpler two stage approach which deals with strategic matters first and then the detailed local plan. This would enable the strategic stage of plan making to be carried out efficiently and effectively, allowing the rest of the plan making process to be simplified.
This is set out in our POS Manifesto Background Paper 9 - Spatial Planning: Simplifying the Process. See: https://www.planningofficers.org.uk/uploads/POS%20MBP9%20Spatial%20Planning.pdf
Secondly, we have yet to see the proposed National Development Policies (NDMPs), and these will no doubt have a significant impact on the scope of local plan making. Clearly efforts to avoid the need for repetition and duplication in policy writing is a desirable outcome, in principle. However, it should be made explicit that they are the starting point for local consideration. A one-size-fits-all approach is unlikely to work across England given differing local challenges and opportunities and if evidence shows that a different or more refined approach in different geographies is necessary that should be acceptable.
Thirdly, we have yet to see the revised NPPF that will set the context for the current system that was promised much earlier in the year nor the new NPPF that will for set the scene for the new planning system. There are also some key issues that will have to be delivered through further national policy changes, such as the new ‘tests of soundness’ that local plans will be expected to meet and the aforementioned policy.
On the general content of the consultation document, we are delighted to see a specific reference to minerals and waste planning. This part of the plan-making system has its own set of challenges and will require a different approach to some parts of the plan-making process, which is recognised.
Finally, POS would welcome an early opportunity to discuss how these matters – the alignment test, NDMPS and the revised NPPF – and how they could best be drafted ahead of any future consultation on any specific proposals in due course.