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Central Government Changes to the Planning System

On 27th May, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP contacted local authorities to confirm the intended abolition of regional spatial strategies (RSS). On 6th July, this was confirmed with the “revocation of regional strategies with immediate effect”. In due course, all RSS will be abolished via legislation. In the meantime, they have been revoked under Section 79(6) of the Local Democracy Economic Development and Construction Act 2009.

What are the implications for Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury Councils as local planning authorities?

The statutory development plans remain unchanged for each authority, until saved policies are replaced by policies in the Joint Core Strategy (JCS) and other supporting development plan documents.

Where Local Plan policies may expire before adoption of the JCS (e.g. Tewkesbury Borough Local Plan policies currently have an end date of 2011), the councils will seek to extend saved policies as required.

In addition to the saved policies of the local plan, councils will have regard to national planning policy (planning policy guidance and planning policy statements). These will be material considerations in any planning application, however where references to the RSS exist in these documents, these references are no longer valid.

Where councils have not yet issued decisions on planning applications in the pipeline, councils have the opportunity to review those decisions in light of the new freedoms following the revocation of the RSS. The revocation of the RSS may also be a material consideration.

What is the future of my council’s Local Development Framework (LDF) and the Joint Core Strategy (JCS)?

Guidance states that where LDF documents (such as the JCS) are in preparation, this work should continue. Local authorities must ensure a plan-led approach is in place for their areas, taking account of evidence and local people’s aspirations – the LDF remains the preferred way of doing this.

The Coalition Government has emphasised the importance of cross boundary co-operation in preparing LDFs; the JCS authorities are therefore well positioned to continue and, wherever possible, strengthen collaborative working to put in place an effective development plan for the area. Leaders and Chief Executives of the JCS local authority areas met on 24th June 2010 and agreed that collaborative working via the JCS should continue.

Now the RSS is gone, how will we determine our development needs?

Housing and employment targets in the RSS were informed by research from the Regional Assemblies. This regional planning function has been scrapped and powers passed down to the local level. Therefore, councils must find their own arrangements for determining local development needs. The JCS team and other Gloucestershire authorities have already begun discussions on the best way of doing this.

In addition to identifying our housing requirements, the Government also requires local authorities to provide a 5-year housing supply. Officers are now considering how to deal with this in the interim period before our housing requirements are defined.

Will there still be changes to the green belt?

Currently, the answer to this question is – we don’t know. The Government advises local authorities to consider the desirability of new green belt or adjustments to existing green belt boundaries when preparing LDFs. Until we determine our development needs, we cannot be certain that no development of green belt will occur.

When will we know?

The JCS team is reviewing its work programme in light of these changes. Leaders and Chief Executives of the JCS local authority areas requested that evidence for our development requirements is delivered as quickly as possible. The JCS Programme Board will make an announcement on this shortly. Watch this space.

What about provision for travellers’ sites?

Government guidance on this point is unclear. Like housing provision, it is now the responsibility of local authorities to determine the correct level of travellers’ site provision. Gloucestershire currently has a Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) which covers a period up to 2012 and is now being reviewed. In addition, the JCS has begun to consider ways of developing the evidence base for traveller sites, resulting in the preparation of a Gypsy, traveller and showpeople site assessment. This will be undertaken on a similar basis and methodology to the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA).

Further information

Watch this space, or go direct to the website of the Department of Communities and Local Government|.