Local Plans in a time of Government Storms

Is it possible now to predict what will happen to government policy and legislation one week to the next?

I don’t think it is.

Last week you might have assuned that yeah sometime early next year the LURB BIll will get Royal Assesnt, the new NPPF will be out, local plan making will be a bit less uncertain.

This weekend with back benchers plotting as poll numbers dive it seems it will be difficult to get legacy Gove legislation through let alone any more radical bill needed such as ‘dissaplying’ the Habitat directive in investment zones.

With legislative options becoming difficult, or likely to take years, and the government hungry for supply side reforms they might just go for changes that can be made through policy changes and secondary legislation. Think Green Belt which has not appeared on the face of any post war planning legislation.

So one scenario is Simon Clarke simply abandons the ‘Wakeford Doctrine’ that planning policy changes are announced in draft form and consulted one. We have partially abandoned it already, the Investment Zone document is billed as ‘Guidance’ with the policy being announced in the Budget Red Book.

Clarke has announced in speeches and interviews four big things:

  1. End to ‘Stalinist’ Targets
  2. Reduction in Power of PINS
  3. Green Belt Reviews – esp around stations
  4. Investment Zones – employment cores, housing fringes, with new ‘incentives’

Now we know don’t we the Quod NPPF ‘build what you like where you like when you like’ incentive – don’t meet the 5YHLS, don’t have a local plan in place – presumption.

How would it work – esp on Green Belt Release – without some measure of whether need is being met?

Civil servants must be scratching their head on that one.

I note however that most of the proposed investment zones, apart from West Midlands, South Part of Essex and East Part of Kent have little Green Belt. I also note that incentives wont be financial – we are in a new age of austerity and Clarke has announced the new style of leveling up is not about government funding.

So in investment zone areas – in a system without a standard method – promoters of large sites might go straight to appeal as whether a LPA has a 5YHLS or not no longer matters. There might also be a system – like the one in many jurisdictions, where developers submit their own masterplan/zoning proposals directly to government. So the incentive is either you plan or you get it anyway, we cant wait four years until your new plans are adopted. I note such direct approvals common in countries with Special Economic Zones – the forerunner of freeports and investment zones. Ive frequently done masterplans and zoning plans in such areas. So this is incentive – plan, approve or developers will get powers to approve it themselves.

This still leaves the same problem as the current NPPF, little incentive to do anything in Green Belt Areas. Perhaps they might however apply the favoured technique as the 55 Tufton Street Gang recommend – i.e automatic sunset clauses on regulations (which includes local plans and Green Belt – unless they are revised). Indeed I have toyed myself with whether or not this would be a good idea as it forces Green Belt to be part of an up to date strategy, its original purpose, rather than as it has become freezing a strategy introduced 40-50 years ago in place forever; irrespective of the circumstances.

So do LPAs have any good options?

One might be do nothing – the ride out the storm option. Your LDS is out of date so what, if government won’t take special measures, and the enhanced special measures in the LURB bill, with the bill having an uncertain fate, just ride out the storm. We may even have a new PM by Xmas.

Another option is to pause , freeze or stop. Though much attention is given to the ‘Naughty step’ list in Plnning the circumstances of the authorities on it are al different. Some ran out of money, some took measures to scrap (Castlepoint and Basildon) and start again – gaming the system, other decided to make a non-decision and not even put to full council (Basingstoke). Others have had resolutions of varying degrees of legal dubiousness changing timetables without changing the LDS (not unlawful but dodgy, and may simply encourage appeals or go direct to government as above if developers feel the plan is being put in a chiller with a padlock on door and key thrown away) , withdrawing LDSs (no provision for that in the Act or Regulations) it goes on. At lease the LURB Bill in schedule 7 would have cleaned up this mess with statutory timetables.

So perhaps the best advice is to not set a firm course in a raging storm and stay in harbour until the storm is over.

Bonkers times.

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