Notes of the LDF Learning & Dissemmination Group 4 Oct 2004
The new system is radically different from the old
A common message from the authorities is that the more they have studied the new system, the more clear it becomes that it is very different from what it replaces. As one participant put it "The more you know, the more you realise you don't know!" Concern was expressed that many in the profession have not yet got to grips with the new system and realised that it will require different approaches from everybody - whether local authority planners, their members and colleagues, other public bodies and NGOs, planning consultants and their clients, community groups, or the public at large.
Engaging with the new system has not been helped by the lengthy and convoluted passage of the Bill through Parliament, and the difficulty in getting consistent and reliable advice while the system continued to evolve. The hope was expressed that now the Act and Regulations are in place, and PPS12 has been published, information and advice from ODPM and Government Offices will be lucid and consistent.
However, even when the advice to professionals is clear, people in the pilot authorities expect to find it difficult to explain the workings of the new system to others. Apart from the difficulty of conveying concisely the concept of spatial planning, the extent of change means that there is a lot that is new to explain. Councillors in particular are finding it difficult to get a handle on the new system, but they are not alone.
Authorities are using a number of means to build up their own understanding. Apart from member and officer training, networking with colleagues in other authorities has helped (Coventry, Hillingdon), work on the LDS has been a good learning vehicle (Barking and Dagenham), the draft guide to spatial planning policies is seen as helpful (Colchester, Horsham), some Government Offices have been helpful (Coventry, New Forest) as has involvement in e-government initiatives (Ipswich) and the information on the GO South East website.
Effective communication about the new system within authorities is crucial because corporate support will be needed to produce the LDF, especially when competing with other corporate priorities. The converse can be an issue; other departments within authorities are bringing forward policy documents which they assume can be be assimilated into the new system, but cannot because they have not gone through the relevant procedures
Future project meetings will no doubt return to the issue of how to communicate the new system to others.
Work on LDSs has made plan programmes more realistic
The authorities have found the discipline of preparing the LDS helpful in moving from broad ideas about what LDDs they might prepare to a more considered and realistic programme. There are of course several aspects to this -
The points have been made that the LDS is quite a useful project management tool in its own right (Hillingdon), and that there will be a need for effective project management systems and training in their use (Barking and Dagenham, Hambleton). Hambleton commend the benefits of using the Prince 2 system.
Development of the LDS has also assisted authorities in getting a better idea of the staffing resources which will be needed and in making the case for additional resources.
While there were different experiences in different regions, the authorities have generally found the advice of Government Offices helpful. This, together with the improved grasp of plan preparation practicalities as a result of working on the LDS, had led most to the conclusion that it should be scaled down from their first ideas, either by preparing fewer LDDs overall or by extending the timescale for their production.
Part of the reason some authorities had originally set themselves over-demanding LDF programmes was due to the belief that to meet PSA targets, all authorities must have their full LDF in place by Spring 2007. John Hack of the ODPM stressed that this is a misunderstanding of the true situation. The reality is that authorities are expected to meet the key milestones of their LDS over that timescale. Of course that does not remove the expectation that where current plans do not allocate sufficient land for housing to meet the PSA target, authorities will bring forward DPDs to do so as soon as possible.
Pilots are moving towards the statutory minimum in SCIs
The authorities are at different stages in the development of their SCIs and the thinking which goes with it. Those who have produced an early draft have found the process helpful in building their understanding of how community engagement will operate under the new system, and relate to other aspects of LDD production. Colchester have consulted local people on how they would prefer to be involved, and worked towards a database of local organisations. Hillingdon are planning to appoint a team member to work on consultation on a day to day basis. They have found targeting the local strategic partnership a good way to access certain hard-to-reach groups, but there is a question mark over whether they have the stamina to remain involved throughout the LDF process.
Although some early drafts of the SCI were quite ambitious, further consideration has led the authorities to the realisation that the minimum requirements set by the Regulations are quite demanding. Consequently, they now feel that their SCI will probably closely follow the stipulated minimum. New Forest are keen to capitalise on other consultation which has recently taken place.
Looking at public engagement in the wider corporate context there are interesting differences. For example, Coventry think it likely that the LDF engagement strategy will be developed in parallel with a review of corporate consultation strategy, while Hambleton feel that the established community planning consultation machinery provides both a focus and ready-made forums locally.
Issues have arisen about how best to engage communities at the issues and options stage, when there are no concrete proposals to put before them; and how to manage community engagement over the preparation of several different LDDs, particularly where they will be prepared to different timescales. These issues will be addressed further at the next meeting of the pilot authorities on 8 November.
Linking with the community plan presents challenges
Several authorities have developed links with the local strategic partnership (Coventry, Doncaster) or established regular meetings with the community planning team (Barking and Dagenham), and at Doncaster, Hambleton and Horsham the planners have a central role in community planning. Hertfordshire have identified the benefit on drawing on the resources of the community planning team, as well as other departments, with a view to reciprocal benefit.
There is an expectation in some of the authorities that the preparation of the LDF will be tied into a review of the community strategy. This clearly fits well with the requirement to pay regard to the community strategy, and offers the opportunity for economy in the use of resources by the integration of activities such as public engagement and monitoring.
However, there is a range of practical difficulties to be addressed -
It is anticipated that some of these issues will be re-visited by the project as it evolves.
Starting early on SA/SEA is essential
Now that the dust has settled on the Act and associate regulations, it is evident that work on sustainability appraisal and strategic sustainability appraisal needs to be begun at the very outset of the LDD preparation process. Indeed, the requirement to provide baseline data against which policy choices can be tested makes it difficult to progress very far without it. It is now clear that the ODPM do not see SA and SEA as separate processes, but require planning authorities to carry out sustainability appraisal in a way which also meets the obligations under the SEA Directive.
The authorities have addressed the need to progress the SA in different ways. Most are approaching the issue using internal resources, generally within the LDF team, and involving a dedicated officer at Hillingdon. Sustainability appraisal will sit with the Environment Policy team at Barking and Dagenham. Colchester, Hambleton and Horsham are involving consultants.
Information from elsewhere suggests that a significant number of authorities are using consultants for sustainability appraisal, or have plans to do so. This makes sense in terms of bringing in external expertise to support the in-house team. What will be crucial is that the LDF team retains a close involvement in the SA work, so that it can effectively inform policy choices as they emerge and function as an integral part of decision-making.
While sustainability appraisal is now an established part of the planning system, strategic sustainability appraisal is new, and will require the development of new understanding and competencies. Moreover, the new system will require authorities to establish a sustainability appraisal process to operate across the preparation of different LDDs at different timescales. This is challenging, and is a key issue for discussion at the next meeting of the pilot authorities on 8 November.
Some practice pointers
During discussion at the pilot authorities meeting, a number of matters arose which pointed towards successful approaches or sources of information -
About the LDF learning and dissemination project
The project is led and funded by the Planning Officers Society (with contributions from the participating authorities), with welcome support from colleagues at the ODPM, Planning Inspectorate, Local Government Association, and RTPI. It is being delivered by POS Enterprises, the Society's operational arm, through Andrew Wright as Project Director and Karen Moore as Project Officer. A copy of the project description can be found here .
The pilot authorities represent different kinds of authorities in different kinds of circumstances, and are at different stages in getting LDF work under way. What they have in common is a will to succeed in planning under the new system, and openness to learning from others, both through the project and more widely.