Why age matters for Local Plans

by Ed Dade


Posted on April 1, 2019


Age is just a number, unless you are a Local Plan.

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The Local Plan is the principal planning document which sets out strategic and non-strategic planning policies for an area. Planning applications are judged against the Local Plan's policies.

Requirement to keep up-to-date

The government's National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) places great importance on keeping plans up-to-date.

The NPPF requires policies in local plans to be reviewed at least once every five years to assess whether they need updating.

Where a Local Plan is more than five years old the NPPF requires the government's Local Housing Need method be used when calculating Five Year Land Supply, rather than the policies of the Local Plan.

Similarly, the government's Housing Delivery Test measurement ignores the Local Plan's housing target where a Local Plan is more than five years old, instead relying on household growth forecasts. You can check the Housing Delivery Test results for each local authority area in my post Housing Delivery Test 2019 Published.

Changes to the housing requirement figure for an area can have significant implications for the Local Plan. For example, if a Local Plan does not make sufficient land available to meet the housing requirement, it's policies may be rendered out-of-date. In this situation, development proposals will be determined in accordance with the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

Consistency with national policy

A policy's status in decision-making will depend on its consistency with national policy. Where a Local Plan's policies are inconsistent with the NPPF, these may carry less weight in decision-making.

The NPPF was first published in 2012, then revised in 2018 and further updated in 2019.  Older plans, particularly those which were prepared against a different legislative and national policy context, are perhaps more likely to be inconsistent with current national policy.

Other initiatives, such as the introduction of optional technical housing standards in 2015 dramatically reduced the scope which Local Plans have to dictate the design of housing developments (including energy efficiency and accessibility). Policies requiring design standards will generally be regarded as inconsistent with national policy.

Saved policies

The transitional arrangements of the Town & Country Planning Act 2004 enabled local planning authorities to identify policies to be 'saved' and retained for an extended period.

Whilst some policies in older plans may have been 'saved' and will continue to be used in decision-making, other policies may not have been saved and are no longer used - for example, where the policy is inconsistent with current national policy.

Becoming out-of-date

It is important to note that a Local Plan may have diminished status due to factors not related to age. For example, a Local Plan's policies become out-of-date where the local authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of housing land, or have performed poorly against the housing delivery test. For more info, see my post "Presumption-proofing" Neighbourhood Plans.

Check the status of Local Plans

The basic conditions require Neighbourhood Plans to be in 'general conformity' with the strategic policies of the Development Plan. However, groups preparing Neighbourhood Plans should be mindful that, for the reasons discussed above, a Local Plan's policies do not always carry 'full weight' in decision-making.

For example, in situations where the presumption in favour of sustainable development applies, development proposals are frequently approved outside Local Plan Development Boundaries.

When you begin writing a Neighbourhood Plan, you should discuss the strategic policies of the Local Plan with your district or borough council to find out whether they are up-to-date and consistent with national policy.

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