Here are details of events, materials and information we have produced in our attempt to keep pace with the changes to the planning system proposed and consulted on by government. The roots of the most recent and significant round of proposals began back in August 2020 with the Planning for the Future White Paper. This was followed in December 2022 by proposed changes to National planning policy and draft text changes to the NPPF. A revised NPPF was published in September 2023 to account for updated policy on planning for onshore wind development. In October 2023, the Levelling Up & Regeneration Bill - now the Act (LURA) received royal ascent. LURA contains many changes to the planning system - many of which are yet to be enacted. Which brings us to December 2023 with the publication of the revised NPPF, and a Written Ministerial Statement from the Secretary of State (the long term plan for housing). We now await details of the proposed reforms to the planning system due to be implemented in the Autumn of this year, 2024.
December 2023 - Revised NPPF, Secretary of State's speech at RIBA and a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS)
On the 19th of December 2023, The Secretary of State delivered a speech: "Falling back in Love with the future" and made a Written Ministerial Statement on the Long-Term Plan for Housing. This was shortly followed by the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework on 20th December 2023.
Local Planning Authorities asked to make sure they have up to date plan timetables.
In his Written Ministerial Statement on 19th December 2023, Michael Gove directed seven Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) to publish a plan timetable within 12 weeks. He also said that he expected all local planning authorities to make sure that they have an up-to-date plan timetable in place within the same timeframe and to provide a copy to his department. Many councils have been in touch with us to ask what this actually means for them, so we have set out here what we think this actually means in practice for LPAs.
Supplementary Plans (SPs) - further informal consultation November 2023
With our colleagues from DLUHC we ran 5 events in September (see slides below) on the Implementation of Planning Reforms linked to the LURB, which is now of course the Act (LURA). We asked delegates which of the topics covered they would like PAS to run a separate event on and SPs came up very strongly. Here are the slides from the events held on 21 and 23 November (See FAQs opposite as well).
September 2023 Event Series - Plan Making Reforms Consultation On 3rd August 2023 PAS held a Webinar with officials from DLUHC to learn more about the consultation on implementing planning reforms. This was an information giving session providing an overview of the consultation and some Q & A. A recording of the webinar and the presentation materials from the event series are available below. PAS also held a series of in person events throughout September to help LPAs prepare their responses to the consultation.
Plan Making Reforms Implementation Consultation Webinar 3rd August 2023:
DLUHC Presentation - Plan Making Reforms Implementation Consultation Webinar 3rd August 2023:
Plan Making Reforms Implementation Consultation - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Government is aware of a number of planning authorities that have prepared a local plan from 'Issues and Options' to submission within or just over 30 months. This does not account for examination and there may be wider context(s) that government aren't aware of. The consultation proposes a variety of changes which together with wider reforms and digitisation, will mean 30 months is more achievable.
The requirement to adopt a plan, at the latest, 30 months after the plan preparation process begins is proposed to be set out in policy and guidance rather than regulations. The consultation proposes to provide expert plan-making support to a first, small cohort of around ten “front runner” authorities to prepare new-style local plans. This will provide a strong foundation of learning and best practice for other authorities to draw upon.
This could be reflected through community engagement as part of the local plan consultation. The government is proposing a new requirement at the very start of the process for LPAs to 'notify' and 'invite' early participation participation (see especially Chapters 50 and 51 ‘scoping and early participation’ in the consultation). This will provide an opportunity for communities to be involved earlier in influencing and contributing to plan visioning. Furthermore, through regulations, two formal consultation windows are proposed to allow communities to have a better understanding of how their views will be able to influence the process. The first window is expected to focus on the vision for the area and would be reflected in the second consultation on the draft plan. By the second consultation window, communities should have had sufficient opportunity to influence and make representations on wider ideas in the plan, through both early participation and the first consultation window.
The government will explore the interaction of CLA arrangements with council-owned/public sector land as part of the design process.
Through the digital reforms, the government's aim is to enable more people to engage easily with the planning system. Not all people have the necessary digital capabilities; therefore the government will continue to work with planning authorities to identify ‘hybrid’ approaches that can work with different communities to offer alternative routes to engage with the planning system, alongside traditional forms of engagement.
The scoping and participation stage proposed in the consultation is essential to managing risks in local plan making. The government is proposing that this stage does not have a time limit, enabling early engagement with Members, the public and wider stakeholders, and providing opportunities to discuss key challenges and opportunities of the local plan. Having a Project Initiation Document in place, as proposed in the consultation, is expected to crystallise the main issues and present agreed governance arrangements, including how and when key decisions will be taken.
There will be factors outside a planning authority's control such as elections and political changes. However, pre-election periods do not mean all work on a plan must pause, only that publicity and consultation is to be avoided. There is an expectation in the consultation that planning authorities will continue working, so far as is possible, on the various elements of a plan during a pre-election period, in order to work towards 30 months.
PAS are not proposing to hold any events targeted solely at minerals and waste planning authorities, however, these authorities are able to sign up to the planned events and we welcome welcome these authorities’ input to the discussion and expertise on how the proposals will impact upon the preparation of minerals and waste plans.
The intention is for the preparation of the first new style local plans and minerals and waste plans (i.e. the scoping and early preparation stage) to start in autumn 2024, though as highlighted in the consultation, this is contingent upon Royal Assent of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, as well as Parliamentary approval of the relevant regulations.
The process of collecting and analysing representations is very time consuming and costly. Given the proposal for local planning authorities to adopt a local plan in 30 months, the government is proposing to develop and publish a series of templates for LPAs to use to help speed up this part of the process. This would mean standardising the way in which representations are submitted and received, ensuring they are underpinned by data standards. This could mean enabling submissions to be in a machine-readable format, rather than locked inside PDFs.
The government’s research suggests that it can be easier for communities to make representations at the Regulation 18 stage when representations are sought on the subject of a local plan. However, this can be harder at the Regulation 19 stage due to representations needing to be focused on the draft local plan itself and on matters of soundness. This can reduce the diversity of voices. Having standardised templates aims to do several things to address the accessibility and diversity of responses:
1. make it easier for communities to respond at each window by making it clear to them what their responses should relate to and importantly making it clear what they can influence and when.
2. make it easier for them to follow the progress of their representations by tying them to relevant parts of the emerging local plan.
The proposals are aiming for the formal consultation windows to be focused and to enable LPAs to adopt a local plan in 30 months. To do this, the government is proposing to define the role and purpose of each consultation window, reflecting where these sit within the wider process and to make it clear what the focus of each consultation should be. The reforms also propose to enable the submission of representations in a form which maintains and strengthens accessibility for communities, but makes it easier and quicker for LPAs to process.
The government is proposing several changes which will enable more meaningful community engagement during plan-making. Including to define the role and purpose of the two mandatory consultation windows more clearly, to ensure they are more considered and used to their full potential. To ensure communities and other stakeholders, such as statutory consultees, are able to respond more meaningfully to consultations, a new requirement to invite early participation will be introduced at the very start of the process. The role of digital will also help to make engagement more meaningful. For example, there is strong evidence that using digital technologies can improve feedback loops with communities in consultations, ensuring councils use the data they collect more meaningfully.
The government expects to publish a response in Autumn with consultation on a draft NPPF once the Bill has received royal assent. The final version will be published for consultation. In the meantime, the existing NPPF will remain in place until the new version is finalised and published. The proposals for the National Planning Policy Framework launched for consultation on the 22 December 2022, and ran until 2 March 2023. The government received over 26,000 responses.
The Bill is currently making its way through Lords Report stage in Parliament and the government intends to achieve Royal Assent before the end of this Parliamentary session. Overall, the changes to planning procedures arising from the Bill, such as the National Planning Policy Framework and National Development Management Policies, are expected to begin taking effect from mid 2024.
Throughout the development of the reform proposals, the government has involved a range of local authorities from both urban and rural locations and different parts of England, to ensure different voices are represented. DLUHC's engagement has taken shape both in form of pathfinders, various funds (including the PropTech innovation fund) as well as online and in-person workshops at various stages of policy development, which has provided valuable user inputs. This engagement has prioritised capturing and understanding the views of local planning authorities, as well as the challenges they face, to ensure the proposals are shaped by those that will implement the reforms. In addition, DLUHC continues to carry out user research to understand the opportunities and challenges presented by planning reforms, and a user research panel has been created to inform local authority users and others about upcoming research.
The consultation seeks to understand views on whether our proposals have an impact on those with a protected characteristic as per the Equality Act 2010. The proposals have considered how underrepresented groups will be meaningfully engaged within plan-making. For the first time, community engagement will receive independent oversight at the gateway checks through the Project Initiation Document. Local planning authorities should set out their overall approaches to engagement, which should include how the authority intends to engage with underrepresented groups. Furthermore, the government is advocating hybrid approaches to engagement as piloted through its PropTech Innovation Fund. The benefits of using digital tools for engagement can broaden the reach of those who do not normally participate in public consultations. The pilots demonstrated accessibility, inclusion and diversity of community responses, and an increased participation among those who had never engaged with the council before.
Figure 1 in the consultation sets out a broad outline of the proposed 30 months timeframe. The proposed stages are not intended to be strictly followed in sequence because some activities can be undertaken in parallel, for example evidence can be prepared alongside consultation and gateways. It is proposed that the regulations, policy and guidance is not overly prescriptive, and planning authorities should plan to use the time available in the most efficient way. The Project Initiation Document should be used as an effective project management tool from the scoping stage and throughout the 30 months.
Yes, an Inspector will still be able to request additional evidence at examination if they felt it was necessary. This could be done through the new 'examination pause'. The gateway assessments process might also make recommendations on evidence required to demonstrate soundness, before examination is reached.
Greater clarity on what evidence is expected when preparing a plan and what proportionate evidence looks like should be taken into account by all stakeholders. The government also proposes to clarify in national policy that evidence should only normally be discussed and argued against at examination where there is a significant and demonstrable reason for doing so, in relation to the tests of soundness (including consistency with national policy) and legal requirements.
The government intends to undertake work to explore whether a change to the 'effective' element of the tests of soundness would be beneficial, in particular the extent to which deliverability over the plan period must be demonstrated through evidence. Any change would need to balance the need to ensure there is sufficient confidence that planned development will come forward.
The new Project Initiation Document will help to set an early plan for the sequencing and production of evidence required to create a sound plan. The government is also undertaking work to standardise elements of the evidence base that are particularly complex, with the aim that they can be done more easily and quickly in the future.
The Joint SDS will not be bound by the 30 month timeframe, they will have their own regulations setting out how they are to be prepared, examined and adopted. It is expected that these regulations will be similar to the regulations for the Mayor of London's Spatial Development Strategy (known as the London Plan).
Development plan policies and designated National Development Management Policies will have the same weight in decision-making, with the new duty being to make relevant decisions in accordance with the development plan and any national development management policies, unless material considerations strongly indicate otherwise.
Before the transition to the system of new development plans, there may be scope for conflict between national development management policies and old-style development plan policies and policies in out-of-date plans, whilst these are still in the system. In these circumstances, where there is a conflict between a policy in a development plan and a national development management policy, the conflict will be resolved in favour of the national development management policy.
Given gateways will be mandatory for all authorities there is a need to put them on a sustainable financial footing, to ensure delivery of a quality and consistent approach.
The Impact Assessment published alongside the Bill does not cover the potential cost and benefits of the gateways themselves, but does sets out an assumption that the cost of the plan making process will reduce by 10%-20%. Because the detail of plan-making requirements will be delivered through secondary legislation, which will be drafted following extensive user research and engagement with the sector, it is difficult to predict with any more certainty the costs and savings at this time. A full new burdens assessment of planning reform measures will be carried out in line with the requirements of the New Burdens doctrine.
The government proposes, through policy and guidance, to encourage planning authorities to focus on what is necessary at the scoping and early participation stage for the 30 month process to commence when required and not to undertake work that could be done in parallel with future stages. Each planning authority has different circumstances which means some may need more time to carry out this stage than others, but the lessons learnt from the “front runner” authorities will provide insight to this.
The reforms to the processes of environmental assessment (moving to Environmental Outcomes Reports) seek to strengthen monitoring processes so that planning authorities and Government can better capture data for future reuse.
The government intends that information in the Infrastructure Delivery Strategy (IDS) will build upon and replace Infrastructure Delivery Plans that are often produced as part of the evidence base to support the production of a local plan. In the long-term, the Government anticipates that the processes of producing a local plan and of producing an IDS will be aligned. For this reason, they should be prepared or updated alongside the plan.
Front-loading the plan-making process will be key to achieving plans in 30 months. Taken together many of the reforms are designed to front-load the process and reduce the need to revisit things later. For example, the proposed new requirement for authorities to “notify” and “invite” stakeholders during the scoping period (before the 30 month process commences), to bring people to the table earlier, and the proposal to “freeze” key inputs to the plan such as data or evidence, to create more certainty through the process. The new Project Initiation Document will also help to set an early plan for the sequencing and production of evidence required to create a sound plan, and will allow some evidence or information to be produced earlier in the process. However, plan-making will remain an iterative process and it is inevitable that the emerging plan will need to be developed or adjusted in response to new information.
The government is undertaking work to standardise elements of the evidence base that are particularly complex, with the aim that they can be done more easily and quickly in the future. This includes the evidence produced to identify, assess and select or allocate sites.
As part of the consultation the government are seeking views on which evidence topics would be particularly important or beneficial to standardise.
A balance will need to be struck between national standardisation and ability to respond to local context and priorities. We encourage you to respond to the consultation about where you think this balance should lie.
Plan-making will remain an iterative process and it is inevitable that, for example, a vision defined in the early stages of the plan-making process may need to be developed or adjusted in response to new information.
The standards to which the government expects certain planning data sets to meet will be set out in secondary legislation. The government is expecting to design, create, pilot, test and iterate the data standards with end users (e.g., planning authorities). This will ensure they are making it easy for planning authorities to meet these data standards and to be adopting them fully.
The government are building on digital tools, technologies and innovations from within our digital planning programme and beyond, developing a range of guidance and tools to support the varying needs of all users, particularly LPAs, involved in plan making.
This will help planners to get Local Plans in place faster, ensure all parts of the community can engage more easily in shaping the content and provide greater consistency and transparency for Planning Inspectors to understand why decisions were made. To achieve this, government are working with users to develop emerging tools and products, including:
The sharing of best practice through case studies and blog posts.
- Visualisation of plans, policies and spatial data.
- Templates, checklists and step-by-step guides to provide clarity and efficiencies.
- Standardisation of data.
- Dashboards for transparency and communication.
- Search tools to better access information.
- Automation tools and AI to process and report, where appropriate.
The government recognises that local authorities, as well as the wider planning sector, face serious capacity and capability challenges. To address this, we announced on 24 July 2023 a commitment to put an additional £37.5 million funding into the system to clear planning backlogs and deploy additional resource to the frontline to unblock major housing developments.
This is in addition to a range of projects within the already established Planning Capacity and Capability programme, which government has developed, working with partners across the planning sector, to ensure that local planning authorities have the skills and capacity they need both now and in the future.
The consultation on plan-making reforms was published on the 25th July 2023 and closes on 18th of October. It seeks views on our proposals for parts of the Levelling up and Regeneration Bill which relate to plan-making, to make plans simpler, faster to prepare and more accessible. We would encourage those that are interested to respond to the consultation. Once the consultation has closed and the responses have been analysed and considered, government will publish a response in due course.
The government still intends to develop an alignment policy to address strategic and cross boundary issues. This will form part of future proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework and will be consulted on in due course.
The current consultation is primarily focused on areas where we need to develop regulations relating to plan-making, and the policy and guidance needed to support these changes. Meanwhile, the Alignment Policy will be delivered solely via policy and would be introduced as part of a wider review of the NPPF, which will require separate consultation at a later date.
To mitigate any risk of unfairness and ensure the gateways can operate at pace, the government proposes that other interested parties should not be invited to participate in workshops, submit formal representations or contribute to reports.
Under the provisions within the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, planning authorities must publish the final report as soon as is reasonably practicable and it is expected that the report will detail where the involvement of third parties will be required to resolve issues, acting as a key ‘sign-posting’ document for those with an interest in the plan and highlighting where statutory bodies should engage and support resolution of issues. The government would welcome views through the consultation on how third parties can be notified promptly where they have a role in assisting with the resolution of issues in the plan-making process.
It is also anticipated that the public may have an opportunity to comment on the relevant gateway reports at a subsequent consultation on the plan, although local planning authorities will not be formally required to make provision for this.
The Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill does not alter the approach to how plans will be tested at examination. Plans will continue to be examined impartially and publicly to ensure that they are legally compliant and sound.
The government proposed (through the consultation on reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework launched in December 2022) to amend the tests of soundness against which plans are examined, removing the ‘justified’ test. It is currently analysing the responses to the consultation and a decision on whether to implement this proposal will be confirmed when the Framework is updated in due course.
The government also intends to undertake work to explore whether further changes to the soundness tests would be beneficial, balancing the need to ensure there is sufficient confidence that planned development will come forward.
It is proposed that Gateway assessments should support the resolution of potential soundness issues, as far as is possible prior to examination.
No, the government has no intention to require gateway assessments to be undertaken in relation to supplementary plans. Gateway assessments are designed to support local planning authorities in getting up-to-date local plans in place.
It will be vitally important that local planning authorities benefit from consistency throughout the gateways, to maximise their value and ensure that issues are dealt with in a consistent way from the start to the end of the process, and across different areas. To that end, the government is proposing that that there should be a ‘gatekeeper’ organisation that manages the end-to-end gateways process, including appointments on behalf of the Secretary of State, and that the process, including key inputs and outputs, should be supported by clear guidance and utilise digital templates, provided by government, to ensure a consistent and efficient approach. The government welcomes further feedback on its proposals for the gateway assessment process through the consultation.
The Planning Inspectorate plays an important role in examining plans impartially and publicly to ensure that they are legally compliant and sound, and will continue to do so in the new system. Throughout the development of the reform proposals, the government has involved a range of stakeholders that participate in the existing and future local plans process, including the Planning Inspectorate. In particular, government has worked closely with the Planning Inspectorate to develop the proposals for gateway assessments and a streamlined examination process.
The government has engaged with the sector to develop proposals that will genuinely add value and maximise support for planning authorities in developing sound and legally compliant plans. We are considering how best to minimise the number of new requirements for authorities, to limit any burden. For example, it is proposed that authorities would use digital templates, provided by Government, to collate their inputs to the gateway assessments. These could be cross-referenced to other materials (those already under development to support the plan), ensuring consistency and efficiency. It is also proposed that gateways must be undertaken during key stages of the overall plan preparation process, rather than at precise times, to ensure a degree of flexibility for planning authorities in determining when best to go through the assessment; and that each gateway should last no more than four weeks wherever possible, to mitigate the risk of delays to the 30 month timeframe.
Thegovernment are proposing that examinations of local plans and minerals and waste plans should take no longer than six months. However, where a consultation on proposed modifications to the plan is needed, this should add no more than three months to the overall examination process in addition.
Each gateway should ordinarily last no more than four weeks (up to 6 weeks in exceptional circumstances), including the time taken for the assessor to produce and issue a final report. In order to maintain a degree of flexibility around how gateways are introduced, gvernment does not proposed to define this maximum timeframe in regulations, but will work closely with delivery partners to ensure it is consistently achieved. It is also proposed to set out, in guidance, that authorities should not pause work during gateways and that plan preparation work should continue in parallel.