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Local plans – 8 steps for action

Here are 8 steps to take to get involved in local plans.

Step 1: Maximise your influence

Your involvement is likely to vary depending on your interests – what are you most concerned about when you think about the future of your city, town, village or countryside? Are you interested in the bigger picture or is it a more local or specific issue?

Consider whether it would make sense to get together with town or parish councils, community groups or individuals to share the work and time needed to get involved in the Local Plan process.

Step 2: Influencing the issues, vision and objectives

At this stage the local planning authority is not required legally to consult the public, but they are strongly encouraged to do so – and in our experience almost all do.

The local planning authority may consult on this stage of the plan through a variety of ways including an event or roadshow, with a stall at a local fair, festival or cultural event, or through a citizens’ panel or other targeted methods. They may also consult more widely, such as through a leaflet to all homes, or articles in the press or in council magazines.

The local planning authority may hold a ‘visioning exercise’ to help set the vision and objectives for the Local Plan. If your local planning authority doesn’t plan to hold this sort of event, you could ask your parish or town council to set up a local meeting or informal workshop where the planning staff can be invited to talk to your group and hear the community’s views.

Step 3: Comparing options for the spatial strategy

The next main stage of Local Plan preparation is to draw up options for the spatial strategy. This identifies broadly where development should be located to meet local needs. This is a key stage to make comments and have an influence on the plan – once the spatial strategy has been decided the remainder of the process is about the detail. If you have limited time and resources, make sure you comment at this stage.

Step 4: Understanding policies and proposals

A Local Plan will comprise a written document which will contain policies and proposals the purpose of which are explained in detail by further text (the ‘reasoned justification’). It will also contain a proposals map. Policies set out what development is planned and how this should be implemented.

Proposals relate to specific sites to be developed or protected. Details should be provided of exactly what is proposed, though often a more detailed ‘development brief’ or ‘master plan’ will be prepared to guide the development. Reasoned justification explains the reasons for the policy or proposal, and points to the evidence to support it. It is a legal requirement.

You don’t have to read every policy – focus on your key interests, and have a look at the spatial strategy and key priorities to get an idea of the bigger picture. However, do bear in mind that the plan will be designed to be ‘read as a whole’ – this means policies should not include repetition, such as including a requirement to design development to protect the local landscape in every proposal to develop individual sites.

Step 5: Responding to the formal consultation on the publication version of the Local Plan

Once the local planning authority is happy with its Local Plan, it must publish it for a formal consultation period of at least six weeks, and make it available at the council offices, other appropriate locations and on its website. At this stage formal representations can be made in writing or electronically.

This is your last chance to have your say on the contents of the Local Plan. Even if you have made comments at an earlier stage, it will be worth looking again to see if your comments have been taken on board. If not, you may want to make your comments again as a formal representation. Importantly, all representations made at the publication stage are provided to the inspector who examines the plan.

Step 6: The submission version of the Local Plan

Once the local planning authority has considered all the representations received at the publication stage, it can amend the plan before submitting it to the Secretary of State to be considered by an independent inspector at an ‘Examination’. This is called the submission version of the plan.

Often the local planning authority will make some minor amendments to the plan before they submit it, but only rarely are more substantial changes made. If more substantial changes are made they will be published for further consultation before the plan is submitted for examination.

The local planning authority is required to provide a written summary of all the issues raised, both during the engagement stage and publication stage to the inspector. They must also say how issues raised at the publication stage have been addressed in the plan.

Step 7: Taking part in the Examination

The Local Plan will be considered by an independent Planning Inspector who will assess whether the plan has been prepared in line with the following requirements (a process known as independent examination).

The inspector will also consider all of the representations made and the evidence prepared by the local planning authority. After considering all these matters, the inspector will decide if a hearing is required and if so what issues will be covered when. If a hearing is held participants are invited to take part in a round-table discussion of the issues, with the inspector asking questions and leading the debate.

If your objection has not been overcome by changes to the plan at the submission stage, you may want to appear at an examination ‘hearing’ where the inspector leads a round-table discussion, normally based around particular topics.

Step 8: Adoption

Following the Examination, the inspector makes recommendations to the Secretary of State and local planning authority on whether the Local Plan is ‘sound’ and should be adopted or any changes made. The inspector may find the plan ‘unsound’ in which case the local planning authority cannot adopt it without further significant changes. This would require further consultation and a re-examination. The Secretary of State can also ‘call in’ the plan and suggest changes, which would also be consulted on.

Look out for planning applications or master plans which seek to implement the Local Plan, and get involved in influencing the quality of development in your area.