The government is in talks with the Planning Inspectorate over ways to speed up the process of examining local plans to ensure that they comply with the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), it has emerged.
Under the coalition’s controversial planning reforms, local authorities will need to have an up-to-date local plan in place by the time the changes come into effect in 2012. Otherwise, the presumption in favour of sustainable development enshrined in the draft NPPF, which stipulates that the default response to new development should be “yes” where a local plan is “absent, silent or indeterminate”, will take effect.
Councils that already have a local plan in place are also under pressure to ensure that their plans comply with the principles set out in the draft NPPF.
The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said last month that it is looking at a fast-track way of adjusting existing plans to comply with the framework.
But communities minister Baroness Hanham told peers in the House of Lords this week that discussions are also going on with the Planning Inspectorate “to see what is required to make the examination process quicker”.
She said: “It is well understood that the Planning Inspectorate will be put under pressure and we hope and expect that that will be able to be worked around.”
A 12-week consultation on the draft NPPF closed this week following widespread public debate over the proposals, with the National Trust – one of the most vocal critics of the reforms – handing over a petition with more than 200,000 signatures calling for changes to the document.
Planning minister Bob Neill said at the Conservative Party conference earlier this month that the need to redefine “sustainable development”, clarify the government’s stance on the “brownfield first” policy and put in place transitional arrangements for councils to adapt to the reforms were the three main areas of concern over the draft NPPF that the industry has raised with him and other ministers.
Last week, decentralisation minister Greg Clark reaffirmed a ministerial pledge to put in place transitional arrangements to help councils – particularly those without an up-to-date local plan in place – to adapt to the government’s reforms.
He told a meeting of the environmental audit committee: “It’s always been our intention that we will make an announcement about transitional arrangements. Our target for the publication of the final version of the NPPF is April 2012. Well before then … we will set out our transitional arrangements.”
Sector bodies including the Planning Officers Society (POS) have recommended that such arrangements could include a two-year transition period. POS member Stuart Hylton told the communities and local government select committee this week that two years would allow councils to fill in any gaps in their local plans by the time the new system comes into effect.
However, Baroness Hanham told peers this week that the government is unlikely to put in place a specified transition period. She said: “Forty-six per cent of local authorities do not have development plans in place and they have had eight years to produce them. The worry is that if you time limit a transitional period in some way you are back exactly where we started, where people do not pay any attention.
“It is absolutely essential that we put pressure on local authorities to get their plans completed. We would need to consider very carefully whether there is any value in having (a laid-down transitional period), but are committed to guidance of some sort.”
Of course the exmination process can be very quick, two or three weeks, when local planning authories dont withdraw the plan on the opening day, are forced to do several months more re-consultation when the plan isnt supported by the evidence or shows a 10/15 years shortfall or they keep dragging the process out in the hope that policies will change preventing them having to allocate any land. Some recent examinations have incredibly lasted over a year, only a few days sitting, with more than two rounds of re-consultation.