Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Changes to Development Plans. How Good? How Radical?

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Changes to Development Plans. How Good? How Radical?

Article excerpt

The striking changes to the development plans system in England and Wales over the last couple of years, reflecting, in part, the government's 'modernising' agenda (DETR, 1998), are in the process of being implemented following legislation in 2004 and follow-up in the form of supporting guidance. It is too soon to make definite judgements about just what impact these changes will have, but this Viewpoint explores some of the pluses and minuses involved and raises a number of questions, issues and suggestions that may warrant further consideration as the new system is delivered. It begins with a brief outline of the critique of the pre-2004 development plans system and the post-2004 arrangements, before assessing some of the strengths and limitations of the new system as seen at this stage.

The government review of the planning system (DTLR, 2001) identified a number of weaknesses requiring attention and action. At the national level, planning policy guidance was criticised for being too long and unfocused, and for mixing policy with good practice advice. Regional planning guidance was considered insufficiently strategic, poorly integrated with other regional strategies, and overlapping with the work of structure plans. It was also criticised for failing to take the 'hard' decisions on matters such as housing land release in areas of high demand such as the South East of England. At the local level, local planning authorities were accused of failing to keep development plans up-to-date and for failing to engage local communities in their preparation. The planning system generally was seen to be too complex, too remote, hard to understand and difficult to access, with particular concerns being expressed about the multi-tiered system of plans.

The new system

Springing from this critique, the government set out its main aims to continue with a 'plan-led' approach in dealing with development needs and pressures, to simplify the plan hierarchy, to deliver shorter, better-focused plans at the local level, to engage the community more closely in the preparation of plans and to improve the integration of plans with other strategies (DTLR, 2001). These reforms were stated to be part of a wider 'culture change' being promoted by central government, which seeks to make planning more participative, more positive, more 'spatial', and more concerned with promoting and managing development than with simply controlling and regulating it (McNulty, 2003).

More specifically in terms of change, action has been provided for at national, regional and local levels. At the national (England) level, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) is reviewing all PPGs and MPGs with the intention both of reducing the amount of policy advice from the centre and focusing more on the key topic areas. The aim also is to separate policy from matters of practical implementation. At the regional level, regional planning guidance is to be replaced by regional spatial strategies (RSSs), which will have statutory status and form part of the development plan. RSSs will reflect the diversity of regions and the particular characteristics and needs of each, and integrate more with other regional strategies (e.g. for housing, transport, the economy, culture). RSSs are to be prepared by regional planning bodies (RPBs) which normally will be the regional assemblies.

At the sub-regional / local level all existing plans - structure plans, local plans and unitary development plans - are to be abolished and be replaced by local development frameworks (LDFs). These will contain a core strategy representing the overall spatial 'vision' for each borough or district. Each local planning authority will be required to prepare a statement of community involvement (SGI) setting out how it intends to involve the local community in the planning of its area. Policies and proposal will also have a 'sustainability appraisal' to assess the environmental impact of the plan, in compliance with European directives. …

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