Local Development Orders top tips


Planners setting up the pilot local development orders (LDO) are pioneers and are having to set their own standards. Whilst there is some information in Circular 1/2006 on what to do, this is dated. The pilot authorities have met to exchange their experiences so far and to discuss the practical details of an LDO.

Other planners thinking about the merits of an LDO and the work it entails may find the following questions a useful start.

  1. What type of development do you expect your LDO to cover?
  2. What mechanism will you use to define the acceptable development?
  3. What level of detail will you need to define?
  4. How will the LDO be administered? e.g. how will people know what they can do without the need of planning application

The pilots hope that their thoughts and outstanding questions from the workshop will be useful to other local planning authorities drawing up their project plans.


Keep it simple

Your LDO may prove complicated to design and communicate if you have too many mixed objectives over too large an area. Hertsmere initially planned one LDO to cover 3 different but adjoining types of areas. This had the added risk factor of losing the whole LDO if one of the sub-areas proved contentious. The other pilots also spotted this high risk and felt it was better to do separate orders. Hertsmere have now proceeded more quickly with a more focused order on one of the sub-areas.

Allow enough time

One lesson learned from this pilot project is that, when working with local communities, timescales must allow adequate time for volunteers to be fully involved. The local community in Cornwall has invested a great deal of their personal time in carrying out landscape character surveys and contributing to the design objectives for their parish and want their design guide to be as good as possible even if it takes longer.

When preparing your project plan, check out dates of local elections as you may have to avoid consultation during this time.

Impact on the historic environment

A number of statutory restrictions apply to types of development permitted by an LDO. For example, these prevent a local planning authority making an LDO for development affecting listed buildings. Very careful consideration should therefore be given to change of use proposals and the impact they could have on the historic environment. An assessment of heritage issues in the LDO may be required on a building by building basis taking into consideration the effects on listed buildings and also on the character and appearance of any conservation areas. It is imperative that every effort is made to ensure that those who may wish to take advantage of the LDO are made aware of the need to secure consent for physical works that would affect the architectural or historical significance of a listed building, the need for advertising consent where appropriate, and that there is remedy through enforcement action.

Clear objectives

Have a clear objective leading to demonstrable benefits and keep referring back to ensure the LDO remains focused. The LDO can have a short or a long time horizon.

Develop a robust evidence base to support the objectives and to build a monitoring framework for feedback and future enforcement.

Project management

Key to a successful LDO is having a project plan and remaining focused on what you are trying to achieve. This means allocating enough time and ensuring staff required to manage the process and set up the LDO are committed to the project.

Do a risk assessment at the outset to ensure the project plan is realistic.

Stakeholder engagement

It is not only internal staff who need to be involved. The LDO will benefit from strong interdepartmental working - for example with economic development, environmental health and community development. It is also good to get member contributions to the vision and objectives at an early stage.

Involve major external stakeholders from the outset to make sure there is bottom up support based on their experience of the issues to be resolved. Get the community signed up and involve them in its preparation. For example residents can be involved in conducting surveys rather than just responding to them.

Development management

Use the LDO as a positive planning tool to make good development happen. Find time to promote its preparation as a good news story.

Documentation

It would be useful to devise a template or checklist to guide the documentation. Although there would be differences depending on the objectives and coverage, the pilots thought there would be some basic headings.

An A4 summary and potentially a map to cover:

  • background / context
  • objectives
  • purpose
  • area covered
  • type of development
  • conditions to be attached to development (cross referenced to appendices, design codes etc)
  • legal agreement (summarise as heads of terms at consultation stage)
  • who to consult

Statement of reason

This should include:

  • description of development to be permitted
  • justification for LDO – the issue to be resolved by designation, why the area was chosen, details of specific sites;
  • statement of policies – where there is a link to a DPD or to other strategies;
  • timescale – period of LDO giving options for renewal if appropriate, conditions for compensation;
  • monitoring – data sources, timescales + notification procedures for developers;
  • legal advice received;
  • description of an assessment of the risks of adverse impacts and how the risks can be managed eg how residential amenity has been considered.
  • conditions to be applied and any legal agreements (just heads of terms in the consultation document), reference to detailed descriptions of development eg design guidance, masterplan etc.

 

Location

Include a map of the proposed area and /or list of addresses.

There was uncertainty over the need for a list of addresses as well as a map. What if addresses change or new properties are built? However, it could give flexibility during consultation allowing for some properties to be in the order and for some to be taken out. Blanket coverage would be required if specific locations of future development are unknown and it seems impractical to list all properties.

How to describe the permitted development and draft conditions

Take a risk management approach

A risk assessment is recommended as this will help focus on:

  • the purpose of the LDO
  • what type of development will be included
  • how it might operate. 

It should also help to manage expectations. In turn, this will help with drafting the LDO and the conditions to be attached. As part of your evidence base design a matrix to list the impacts considered and your response. This will be useful for assessing and responding to consultations.

Imagine what the area will be like following the LDO

Who and what are you wanting to attract? You should think through unintended consequences. For example: 

  • Who/what might you inadvertently exclude but would have wanted to allow?
  • Who/what might you be including that you didn't expect or intend?
  • Changes in activity levels that may arise from the allowed development e.g. if too many empty shops turn into cafes or if night time activity increases.
  • Will the LDO result in subsequent impacts? For example, flues on the front of buildings.

 

Be clear about the permitted development

The following tools could be used to define the LDO-permitted development:

  • a defined range of use classes
  • accompanying advice
  • design guides (specific to local area)
  • conservation area management plan
  • detailed descriptions of small scale development (eg smoking shelters)
  • site based masterplan.

Within the pilots, the energy network raises specific issues regarding its nature as an engineering operation. Different conditions may apply in different sub areas and it is also difficult to be specific in advance of doing detailed on-site investigations into where the network will be feasible. It also raises an issue regarding the environmental impact assessment. Arups, on behalf of the London Development Agency, are working on a typology to accompany the LDO.

The self contained hospital site LDO will be based on a masterplan being jointly prepared with the hospital trust. It will cover all types of development and the LDO may not need to be too specific.

Consideration will need to be given on how to differentiate between what would have been permitted development anyway. It is going to be useful to be aware what other changes to permitted development are being planned at a national level.

Timescales

Legal advice should be sought about having a cut off point. It may be better to renew the order than to withdraw it because compensation may be payable. The LDO would be permanent unless it is time limited so it is worth considering an expiry date to allow a review of its operation. This review should consider whether it is meeting the original policy objective and whether the objective is now out of date. It's helpful to remember that the development will remain in place beyond the timescale of the LDO.

Consider attaching a reinstatement condition following the end of operations or cessation of use.

A time limited order may be the way to achieve flexibility. The LDO should not constrain opportunities to respond to future sustainability issues or to keep up to date with changes in technology or new standards.

Impact Assessment

Consider the cumulative impacts of the LDO provisions on:

  • amenity
  • landscape
  • character of the locality
  • land use.

Mitigation for environmental impacts could be controlled through conditions on the allowed development.
Consider how your qualitative objectives can still be upheld. For example, through conditions on:

  • design
  • landscape
  • trees
  • amenity of adjacent occupiers
  • hours of working.

Transparency

The need for transparency is paramount especially if council owned sites are included. Where an LDO is being promoted by one operator, as an energy network might be, take care not to preclude other providers/types of systems.

S106

The development to be permitted can still be subject to a legal agreement. The order should outline how it should be set up and what triggers an agreement e.g. floor space. It should also take into consideration onsite and offsite impacts to be mitigated without forgetting transport impacts and any need for highways improvements or green travel plans.

Monitoring

It is a requirement to monitor the implementation of the LDO. Authorities will need to find a notification method that is not overly bureaucratic or there is no advantage to having the order. Think about:

  • What notification procedures are needed – a condition on the LDO development or is there another mechanism? 
  • Prior approval may be a requirement. How much detail of the proposal should be asked for and who would assess the proposal? Cornwall is working with Feock Parish Council and the intention is for the parish to take responsibility for running the order as they are on the ground and can give locally derived guidance.
  • Whatever monitoring system is set up must be user friendly and able to be understood by the lay person. Otherwise the purpose of simplifying the planning system will have been defeated.
  • Do statutory consultees or local amenity bodies realise they will no longer see the proposed development on a weekly list? Are their concerns covered in the conditions or any accompanying guidance? 

Being clear on the purpose of the LDO will enable the right data to be monitored and impacts reported. The pilots had previously discussed the merit of having a time limited LDO to avoid having to pay compensation should a permanent LDO not achieve the original objectives. The town centre LDOs are being prepared in response to the recession, will their LDO be relevant in an improved economy?

Some development will be more important to monitor than others such as where the LDO helps to meet a policy objective. If the order aims to reduce workload then minimal information would be required.

Pilot authorities are considering:

  • An annual survey of the area (eg suitable for monitoring obvious changes in small areas.)
  • Prior notification, possibly as a condition of the LDO eg in the format of
    • a self completion checklist which could be administered locally
    • a form similar to a permitted development inquiry
  • Prior notification where screening may be required
  • Local administration eg parish council or site manager
  • Charging for formal requests. (It was thought that many developers would want confirmation that the development fell within the order.)
  • Keeping records on the planning database (need to check if the standard products have layers or suffixes for LDO).
     

Communications

Communication is broader than consultation and would cover understanding through to positive promotion. A communications strategy could take into consideration the following points:

  • Ensure LDO is understood internally by staff from relevant departments. An easy to understand guide to the LDO would be useful for the public and for members.
  • Compensation measures may be of interest to landowners. This could be covered in a user guide.
  • Consider the scope of communication in the project planning phase.
  • It may be useful to think of the LDO like a mini area action plan.
  • The communications strategy could be included in your SCI.
  • Communicate the operation of the LDO through the AMR.
  • It's a good news story. Be up front - be proud – and prepare press releases. Encourage the affected community to discuss the project.

 

Consultation

The pilots debated and speculated on the circumstances when re-consultation would be required. Questions included:

  • If the area to be covered or a proposed condition were to change following formal consultation would re-consultation always be required? What if the area to be included was reduced?
  • How should objections be handled especially those which would be unresolved if the LDO was adopted? The formal procedures do not cover this point and so legal advice and political judgement will come into play.
  • Re-consultation would increase timescales and delay the project. Early involvement of stakeholders would be useful to identify concerns and address them through the design of the order.

Requirement for a planning application

The LDO just covers development you are confident about. Remember, developers can still go down the application route.

  • Listed buildings cannot be included in an LDO, even for change of use. If there are listed buildings within the LDO area, then it may be prudent to ensure occupiers are aware of this and are given some indication how the policy being implemented would apply in their case. Wycombe have come across this issue as there are listed buildings in their town centre where they are promoting changes of use to increase occupancy levels.
  • Consider how to handle applications for non LDO development sensitively, especially if the authority is likely to approve a proposal which does not meet the specific objectives of the LDO.
  • An LDO should not stifle innovation. A developer can still take the planning application route.

Administration

  • An internal procedure note will be required with standard forms and letters together with training for development and enforcement planners.
  • The boundary will have to be shown on the constraints map.
  • The order has to be recorded on the planning register.

Disclaimer

This is a report of a workshop with planners who are at an early stage in setting up the first LDOs. It should not be taken as formal guidance. Legal advice should be sought by individual authorities in relation to their specific application of the LDO.