The LDF learning and dissemination project is working with ten pilot authorities to capture what they learn from the preparation of their LDF and disseminate that learning to practitioners. The reports of the learning from meetings of the pilot authorities are to be found on the Planning Advisory Service and Planning Officers Society websites.
The pilot authorities met on 5 September 2006, and this bulletin sets out what came out of that meeting. The meeting covered two main topics:
• the lessons to be learned from the reports of the first two DPD examinations, of the core strategies for Lichfield DC and Stafford BC
• practice pointers from the ongoing experience of the pilot authorities
HEALTH WARNING - The material here sets out the broad conclusions which came out of discussion with the pilot authorities, and represents an early view of what seems to be sensible practice. It is not presented as proven good practice at this time, because the test of that will only come when it has been applied in reality and can be seen to have worked.
This document covers:
§ relation of the LDF to the regional spatial strategy (RSS) and sub-regional working
§ review of the local development scheme
§ appropriate assessment
§ integrating the core strategy and community strategy (and national park management plan)
§ making the core strategy more spatial
§ political decision-making
§ managing the examination
The pilot authorities have been working together through the project since October 2004, and this was their tenth project meeting. They are at different stages in the DPD preparation process, so at any time they are collectively tackling issues across much of the overall process. This is valuable in providing access to experience of all stages in DP preparation. They have two key things in common:
• Wherever they are in the process it is the first time for them, and each is having to develop their own approaches to suit the particular circumstances of the authority and its area
• But they all believe they benefit from sharing their experiences with each other, to identify what they can learn from others at the same time pass on their own experience and learning
Coventry have delayed their core strategy because elected members wished to resolve the scale of growth appropriate to the city, with the leadership indicating aspirations for growth to 400,000 people over the next 15 years. While work on the core strategy can explore the implications of different levels of growth, the key decisions will of course be made through the RSS. This has required the authority to engage with:
• early work on a partial review of the West Midlands RSS which is considering the implications of different levels of household growth
• the City's involvement in the West Midlands City Region Development Plan
• attempting to obtain funding from the Government's "growth point" initiative
Presentations to the Members Advisory Panel and members of the controlling party have assisted members in having a good understanding of the overall context and the implications of substantial growth. The growth ideas have also proved contentious and attracted objections to the concept from residents.
Barking and Dagenham have been pondering how to take account of emerging regional policy in the Spatial Plan for London. The Greater London authority is encouraging Boroughs to incorporate emerging policy as though it were adopted, but there is the concern that aspects may not survive examination of the spatial plan alterations. This issue can be addressed in part through the way the authority tackles the matter of the flexibility of the strategy to cope with changing circumstances.
They also raised the issue that having consulted at issues and options stage, they were now being presented with new evidence which suggested different approaches. Also, the priorities of elected members had changed since the local elections. The concern was whether taking on board new issues (or options within them) at preferred options stage would present problems. The answer appears to lie in the fact that legally the issues and options stage is not a single event, but a process which continues right up to the eve of preferred options participation. It follows that new issues or options can come forward and be taken into account so long as they are fully covered by sustainability appraisal and consulted upon at preferred options stage. However, once the authority has published its preferred options and engaged stakeholders and communities in participation upon them, it cannot subsequently bring forward material new issues or options without going through preferred options participation again.
New Forest were reviewing their LDS to better align the LDF with that of the New Forest National Park Authority and the authorities' respective community strategies. When they were preparing their first LDS, the Government Office advised that since the authority had only just adopted its local plan, the core strategy was not urgen, and could be delayed to run alongside that of the National Park Authority, which only became a planning authority from April 2006. While this was logical, it had presented a range of problems given the interrelationships between issues, the function of the core strategy in providing the spatial strategic framework, and considerations of conformity. The feeling was that if they were to start again, they would have put all their effort into preparing the core strategy first, notwithstanding the existence of an up-to-date local plan.
Current thinking was therefore to complete the employment DP which was already in hand, but focus attention on progressing the core strategy (alongside a development polices DPD), followed by a site allocations DPD.
The issue had been raised as to whether the authority could meet the Regulations in terms of conformity if it was to adopt the employment DPD in advance of having an adopted core strategy. The advice in this case is that the requirement to conform to the core strategy only comes into effect once it exists. Moreover, one of the flexibilities offered by the new system is to be able to decide the most appropriate order of DPD preparation to suit the specific circumstances of the authority, including the possibility of preparing one or more DPDs before the core strategy.
Hertfordshire reported that as a result of the publication of Regulations in relation to Appropriate Assessment, they lost considerable time in establishing what the effect of Appropriate Assessment should be on their plan-making process. This meant that their Waste Core Strategy, Site Selection document and Development Control preferred options are now likely to be published in 2007. Compared with their original LDS this represented a delay of approximately a year.
However, the authority is currently unable to produce a revised LDS given the uncertainty of whether an Appropriate Assessment will be required for any of these documents. Should a full Appropriate Assessment be required this could entail a further delay of up to a year.
The County Council has now received English Nature's opinion on the scoping report on Appropriate Assessment of the Minerals Local Plan (this plan was still proceeding under the old system). Given the lack of UK guidance the Council had taken further legal advice and would be making further modifications to the plan. These would be placed before members in November 2006 and put out for public consultation afterwards. According to the legal advice the County would not be obliged to hold a public local inquiry should there be any objections. Also, the County Council needs to consult on the decision that a strategic environmental assessment was unfeasible i.e. the plan was too far advanced.
New Forest's work on this was progressing well, with officers learning a lot about how those from different backgrounds approach things in different ways, with different needs and aims. They could also mean different things when using the same terminology - a learning point about partnership working. While the process was challenging, it was more and more clear how much sense it made to integrate the processes. A consequence of being fully involved in the community strategy review was that the Policy and Plans team was becoming much more central within the Council - one of the ambitions behind the new system.
Hillingdon reported that the initial scepticism of some external and internal partners on the benefits of working towards a truly spatial strategy were beginning to fade mainly due to:
• stronger leadership from the Government Office to provide clearer and more effective strategic direction
• the outcomes of the examinations of the Lichfield and Stafford core strategies
• the restructuring of the authority, which had brought planning and community services together
It had been recognised that the draft core strategy did not fully reflect the extensive work undertaken during consultation, baseline data collection and analysis, and sustainability appraisal. This reflected something of a tendency to fall back upon the safety net of the old land use policy approach in the formulation of the document. The matter was now being addressed, working with partners and the Government Office.
New Forest had reached the preferred options stage on their first DPD, for employment. There were interesting issues regarding the role of members, who sometimes did not wish to accept the option which on face value performed best in the appraisal process, including sustainability appraisal. It is of course the right of elected members to apply greater weight to particular considerations than to others in reaching judgements, provided that there is evidence to support their conclusions, and the reasons for the judgements are made explicit. To avoid members getting into difficulties in justifying their decisions, it appears to be good practice for officers to present reports in ways which encourage members to consider all other evidence before making political choices.
Hambleton were approaching the hearing into their submitted core strategy. They had used the soundness self-assessment toolkit to prepare a self-assessment, which was developed in some detail and was correspondingly time-consuming. It did not help that it had to be produced retrospectively as an intensive task, rather than progressively throughout the DPD preparation process as intended. However, it seemed to be well worth the effort, in the way it assisted the process of the examination. The Inspector made it clear that he found it very helpful, and had commended it to PINS.
There had been an interesting exchange with the Inspector in relation to representations. He had indicated to the authority that it should report all the representations at submission stage to obtain a formal decision on the authority's response to each, and whether any changes would be proposed prior to the hearing. Officers had significant reservations about this, because it could lead to members re-visiting issues and seeking to make changes contrary to the advice in PPS12, which advises against making pre-hearing changes. Instead they reported the Regulation 31 statement which provided a summary of the total number of representations made and a summary of the main issues covered. The officers also obtained delegated authority to agree minor changes to text and policies during the course of the examination, provided these did not alter the strategy or the intent of policies.
The authority did not acquire specialist representations-handling software, but instead used an Access database. This proved adequate for the core strategy, meeting both the authority's and the Inspector's requirements.