In this blog, part of our series on the Government’s technical consultation on implementation of the planning changes (the Consultation), we discuss how the Government is proposing to deliver on its commitment to get local plans in place by 2017.

As outlined in our earlier blog, clauses 129 – 133 of the Housing and Planning Bill are intended to incentivise and control the plan-making process, with the ultimate sanction being the intervention of the Secretary of State – the Secretary of State will be able to reject, write or correct local plans.

Chapter 6 of the Consultation sets out the Government’s proposed criteria for deciding when to intervene in the plan making process. It suggests that the priority or target authorities for intervention are those where:

  1. the least progress in plan-making has been made;
  2. policies in plans have not been kept up-to-date;
  3. there is a higher housing pressure;
  4. intervention will have the greatest impact in accelerating local plan production.

There is nothing surprising or controversial about this criteria, but how the Government will determine where “intervention will have the greatest impact in accelerating local plan production” is not explained.

One study suggests that 21 local planning authorities are most ‘at risk’ of intervention (as of April this year) in light of the Consultation criteria above.

The Consultation also states that the Government plans to publish a range of monitoring information on local plan progress, every 6 months, for all local authorities in England:

  1. the date that their local plan was adopted or last reviewed (for areas without an adopted local plan it would be the date of their last plan prior to the 2004 Act);
  2. for the publication and submission stages of the plan-making process, the date these stages have been achieved;
  3. for each stage in the plan-making process (publication, submission, adoption) that has not yet been achieved:
    1. the local authority’s forecast date for achieving that stage (likely to be April 2016);
    2. for subsequent publications of the information in (a), the most recent forecast dates. Even if the forecast date remains the same as the original forecast (original baseline date) this date will be published. The intent of this is to show that the local authority is meeting their timetable;
    3. any slippage or acceleration between the original baseline date and the most recent forecast dates.

The intent of this publication is clearly to name and shame local authorities into action. Will it work? Is the threat of intervention going to be enough to stimulate the plan-making progress, particularly for those authorities that are already severely under resourced?

What about financial incentives for local authorities, be they positive or negative? Surely this is the critical gap in the Government’s thinking. The Local Plans Expert Group (LPEG) seems to agree and has recommended in their March report that the Government ought to review the role of financial incentives to stimulate efficient and effective plan making and that authorities should be warned that they will be given less priority when bidding for infrastructure related funding (even if through a LEP) if they do not have in place an up to date local plan which identifies the need for that infrastructure.

While most would prefer to see positive, rather than negative incentives for local authorities, if the Government is serious about incentivising the plan-making process the surest way of achieving this, without intervention, would be for local authorities to have some “skin in the game”.

Note: the Consultation closed on 15 April.