Parts 1 and 2 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (the Act), introduced a new form of development plan system. It replaced the existing Structure and Local Plans and Unitary Development Plans with a Regional Spatial Strategy for each region and Local Development Documents. The new development plan system came into force on 28 September 2004.

In order to allow local planning authorities enough time to move from the ‘old’ development plan system to the ‘new’ system, some rather complicated transitional arrangements were introduced. These provided that for a three year transitional period starting from September 2004, the old style plans could remain in force until the new policies were adopted. This transitional period will end on 27 September 2007 although a slightly longer period is allowed for those plans which were adopted or approved after 28 September 2004, as they will be saved for three years from adoption or approval.

It is clear that if local authorities or regional planning bodies do not have the new policies in place (and have not sought to extend the existing policies beyond 27 September 2007) then there will be a real risk of a ‘policy gap’ which will impact upon authorities trying to carry out their planning functions. Planning Policy Statement 12 (on Local Development Frameworks) states that the old style policies will be saved if it can be demonstrated to the Secretary of State that the saved/old policies reflect the principles of the Local Development Framework and it is not feasible or desirable to replace them in the three year transitional period. However, an ‘application’ to save them has to be made before 27 September 2007 and unless they have been extended, they will cease to be part of the development plan for the area. It is highly unlikely that many local planning authorities, who have been struggling to embrace the new Local Development Plan system, will have completely replaced the old documents with the new local development documents by 27 September 2007. For some developers the cancellation of old and dated development plan documents will be a welcome tidying up of the planning system. However, for others the policy gap could result in decisions on development being subject to delay as authorities struggle to determine applications in a relative policy vacuum.