Changes to benefit the Local Plan process
Appearing before the House of Lords' Built Environment Committee in November, the Housing Minister Christopher Pincher addressed the thorny issue of housing demand by stating that there are, ‘some questions…about whether the call for sites system works particularly effectively and consistently’ and concluded, ‘clearly that's something that we will want to look at’.
The current call for sites process is the point in the planning process at which local planning authorities encourage those wishing to promote land for development to put sites forward for consideration. It occurs at an early stage in the creation of a new Local Plan.
Boyer, and the Land team at our parent company Leaders Romans Group, has considerable experience in guiding landowners and developers through this process and we agree that the status quo is not the most appropriate way to identify potential sites for future development.
The process identifies land in an open manner that is open to all. However, there can be considerable disparity and inconsistency in the information submitted.
And there are other problems. Once sites are submitted and then published by the local planning authority, the level of speculation increases dramatically. This can raise hope value, create panic among local communities and, because of the large number of sites that come forward, can result in considerable work for already over-stretched planning departments. Additionally the approach is piecemeal, resulting in local authorities having to deal with a larger number of sites than are actually needed - many of which can be unsuitable.
There are changes that can be made to the existing system which could avoid these difficulties. The first concerns the point at which the call for sites appears in the Local Plan process: if this stage were to be undertaken once the strategic objectives of the Local Plan (ie, the local authority’s broader objectives for future development) were established, it would better enable submissions to address their ability to deliver on the strategy.
Secondly the system would benefit from more consistency and transparency in the information sought. A simple checklist to consider sites against the strategic objectives, would achieve this. It would also result in a more considered range of sites coming forward and cool panic in relation to unsuitable sites.
Ultimately these changes would speed up the planning process because they would result in fewer inappropriate sites coming forward.
They would not only benefit to local authorities: with a good understanding of the Local Plan’s strategic objectives, a landowner (or their advisor) is better placed to select land in a way that meets the local authority’s objectives and has a greater likelihood of success.
The long-term impact of such a change would be more development taking place on larger sites - sites which are generally more efficient and offer numerous advantages to both local authorities and local communities: including Section 106 and CIL contributions, sustainable transport and provision for biodiversity net gain and ecological advantages. It’s a win-win solution which could significantly help in speeding up Local Plan preparation and ultimately tackling the housing crisis.