So, what’s the plan?
Earlier this month, Basildon Borough Council followed Hertsmere Borough Council in voting to ditch its draft Local Plan. Both decisions followed years of hard work and came in response to a groundswell of local opposition to the objectives of each plan. Other authorities are reportedly considering taking a similar path, in a sign that the planning system is not functioning quite as it should be.
In both cases the release of Green Belt land was mentioned as a key factor. In the case of Basildon, councillors voted in favour of a motion that said the following:
“The reason for withdrawal is based upon, in part, the current Conservative Administrations views and beliefs in placing a greater emphasis on protecting Green Belt for current and future generations than the previous administration.”
In Hertsmere, the Local Plan was “shelved” due to “plans for over 9,000 homes on Green Belt”. The industry publication Planning Resource outlines the problem in detail. Ten councils, including the two mentioned, have delayed or withdrawn their plans within the last six months, with Arun District Council and Sheffield City Council voting to delay based on the need for clarification on national planning policy. Certainty has given way to ambiguity in each of these places, and all those with an interest in planning await the next steps in the process.
Does this really matter? Yes, it does.
For communities and developers seeking to deliver housing, the uncertainty created by delays is extremely unhelpful. Local Plans, which are subject to extensive community engagement, are supposed to help guide the investment developers make, whilst providing communities with some certainty about where development will and won’t take place. That uncertainty can lead to developers seeking to meet housing need on sites that communities are extremely resistant to, which sets up a confrontation that leaves all parties unsatisfied.
For the sake of all stakeholders in the planning process, something needs to be done to ensure every local authority has an adopted, up-to-date Local Plan. The document needs to accurately reflect need, and identify the sites that will meet that need. That will necessitate, on occasion, tough decisions need to be made on issues like Green Belt and density. Without leadership, our plan-led system will be replaced by strategic drift, which suits no one.