Reform of Development Plans – What does it mean for business in Leeds?
By Amanda Beresford, Partner and Head of Planning Schofield Sweeney
The Government proposes radical changes to the planning Development Plan system, which could have huge implications for Leeds and its businesses.
What are Development Plans, why are they important and is the present system fit for purpose?
Development Plans are prepared by local councils and identify policies and sites for housing, employment, shops and transport routes. They are critical to the future of our cities, towns and countryside. Good ones enable a region to thrive and prosper to the benefit of the businesses and individuals within it.
The present system of producing Development Plans is lengthy, complex, inefficient and difficult to navigate. It is not surprising that many councils have yet to adopt a Development Plan.
The Development Plan in Leeds
The Development Plan in Leeds consists of the Core Strategy including a Selective Review (which sets out the overarching strategic framework and vision), the Aire Valley Area Action Plan, the Natural Resources and Waste Plan and the Site Allocation Plan (‘SAP’) (which is the key document for allocating specific sites for housing, employment and other uses).
The law requires each of the plan’s documents to be evidence-based, comply with a statutory duty to co-operate, be subject to consultation, be examined by an independent inspector at a public examination and then be adopted by the Council. If a legal challenge is then commenced, the courts will take further time to determine the challenge. Each of the five plans in Leeds went through this process separately and to different timetables.
The process has taken a lot of the council’s time and resource over many years, as well as hefty input from businesses. The result is a vast amount of paperwork for anyone to digest especially a business that needs to focus on its core activity. There is still not a fully adopted plan. The SAP was subject to a legal challenge in August 2019 which was successful on some grounds. The Judge recently ruled that 37 greenbelt sites, which were allocated in the SAP for development, will have to be reconsidered by an independent Inspector, probably early next year.
So, improvements are needed.
What do the reforms propose?
The reforms include the following: –
- Simplifying Plans so that they zone land into ‘growth areas’ where some outline permissions would be automatically granted, ‘renewal areas’ being mainly built-up areas where there would be a presumption in favour of development and ‘protected areas’ where more stringent controls would apply
- Removing many policies from plans with the Government becoming the primary source of development management policies
- Plans to be prepared and adopted within 30 months
- Plans to be visual and map-based with the process using digital technology
- The amount of housing land in the plan to be determined in accordance with a national standard methodology
What would the reforms mean for business in Leeds?
If the reforms are adopted, Leeds will have to produce another Development Plan to replace its existing one and it will be important for businesses seeking to promote or protect their interests to fully participate in the process. Care will need to be taken to ensure the new plans are flexible and responsive enough to react to changing needs of its resident businesses
The proposed reforms are out for consultation until the 29th October.