Well, we’ve now had a good read of the Local Plans Expert Group (LPEG) recommendations on how to speed up and simplify the process of making local plans and I fear it hasn’t filled us with much more optimism than our initial read gave us. That scan suggested the focus is much more on releasing land for housebuilding rather than creating good local plans and so it is.
LPEG: missing the point
The group seems to have gone well beyond its remit of improving the local plan making process and ranges widely over the housing supply policies in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), creating 47 recommendations, 12 technical annexes and 121 pages of discussion papers.
We’ve tackled many of the issues that LPEG has looked at ourselves, particularly the issue of “objectively assessed need” (OAN) in our Set up to fail report last year. That showed the guidance was leading to hopelessly inflated housing targets that were never going to be met in the time specified and that did not reflect communities’ housing needs. The recommendations from LPEG do not address this problem as their emphasis is on a method that looks simplistically at signals of market demand in order to identify “need” and ignores the actual need for low-cost and social housing. In most cases the proposed new method will lead to housing targets getting even higher than they are currently. This looks like more work for local authorities and a less satisfactory result for those needing somewhere to live.
Part of the source of the problem seems to be the make-up of the LPEG itself. I do not doubt the professionalism of individual members but taken together they are hardly representative of the wide range of stakeholders involved in planning. Those with an interest in the environment are particularly notable by their absence and it means the recommendations are unbalanced in favour of the developers’ agenda.
This lack of representation is particularly evident in the group’s failure to grasp the importance of meaningful public involvement in developing local plans. It is all too clear in the recommendation to consult on a full drafted plan rather than include sufficient and discrete time to consult on different issues and options.
This failure is compounded in a second recommendation that suggests restricting public involvement in examinations of local plans. The recommendation would make the examinations more restricted and legalistic, and undermine the current rights for members of the public who have called for a change to a plan to be heard at the examination. This stage is often one of the most critical in the process and it’s a measure of LPEG’s misunderstanding of local plans that it tries to restrict this.
Among the 47 recommendations there are some which are sensible: do take a look at CPRE’s full response to get a wider view. But the Government needs to be very selective about which recommendations it takes forward and how; there are several, like the ones discussed above, that need to be dismissed outright.