How many councils have a Local Plan and what does that mean for housing supply?

Local Plans are central to the planning system in England and Wales. They are the basis on which every planning decision should be made. Given they are so important, you would expect every council to have one in place. But do they? And what impact does the Local Plan have on the supply of new homes?

What is a Local Plan?

The Planning System in England is supposed to be ‘plan-led.’ Every Council in the country is required to put in place their own Local Plan to guide development over a period of around 15 years. The Plan contains policies that set out what development is needed where – either by identifying specific sites or general types of site. When a planning application is submitted, it is tested against those policies to see whether or not it should be approved.

If a council doesn’t have a Local Plan in place, then applications are decided in line with the National Planning Policy Framework instead. The Framework is a set of general principles that underpin the planning system and so is much less specific on what development is acceptable than a Local Plan is able to be. For example, it the Framework can’t define the boundaries for a specific settlement, whereas a Local Plan can. That means that councils can lose control over exactly what development is allowed to take place if they don’t have a Local Plan in place.

When the Framework was introduced four years ago it changed some of the guidelines for what a Local Plan should include. In particular, it changed the way the number of new homes that is needed should be assessed. So even if a council had a Plan in place before that date, it should be looking to put a new one in place to meet those new requirements.

Does every council have a Local Plan?

While every council should have a Local Plan, that isn’t always the case. According to recent research by planning consultancy NLP:

  • 31% of councils have successfully adopted a new Local Plan since the Framework came into force.
  • 17% of councils have a draft Plan that is close to being adopted.
  • 50% of councils either don’t have any sort of Local Plan at all or have one which was adopted before the Framework.

This is partly because Ccuncils aren’t very good at preparing Local Plans. In total, about half of councils have tried to get a new Local Plan adopted by submitting a draft Plan to the Planning Inspectorate – but fewer than two thirds of them were eventually found to have met the various legal requirements required of them.

Why have so many councils failed to put a Plan in place?

One of the main reasons for this high failure rate is that councils don’t seem to want to deliver enough new homes. Of the councils to have a new Local Plan adopted, almost half were ordered to increase their housing requirement by the government appointed Planning Inspector. None were asked to reduce the requirement.

This reluctance to deliver enough new homes means that some councils aren’t making any real effort to put a new Plan in place. It can be easier politically to simply avoid the issue.

But this response is very short-sighted. Not having a Plan doesn’t mean councils can stop development. Instead, planning applications are decided based on the Framework which only requires that development proposals are shown to be sustainable in themselves. It doesn’t require any detailed consideration of what the most sustainable pattern of development would be in the borough as a whole – that is the job of the Local Plan. This reflects the government’s drive to ensure that more new homes are built.

How can this help you get planning permission?

The absence of a Local Plan therefore provides an opportunity to secure planning permission on sites which might previously have been considered unsuitable, or which the council has looked on unfavourably.

Depending on what progress the council is making with a Local Plan, this can be done either through an immediate planning application, or by working with the council to promote a site for an allocation in their new Local Plan.

The Strategic Land Group specialises in exactly this sort of planning promotion work. We work with land owners to secure planning permission at our cost and risk, with our return being a share of the land value when the site is sold. So if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost the land owner a penny. If you know of a site where you think this type of approach could help, please get in touch.

Find out how we can help