How do you know when you’ve got a good plan? If we remember that there’s no such thing as a ‘perfect plan’ then we’ll be more comfortable with sharing stories about what’s ‘good’.
Working for Citiesmode, an urban planning research and training consultancy, on behalf of the Planning Advisory Service (PAS), we are looking into some recently-adopted plans, all of which were published post-NPPF. We ask 4 simple questions:
How does the plan make best use of land?
Does the plan demonstrate a clear narrative in first identifying and then tackling the issues?
How does the plan promote a diversity of suppliers and developers?
How does the plan contribute to the delivery of strategic objectives?
To make the best use of land it is essential to really understand how the place works. It may be that your strategy is best delivered in a small number of large sites. Never underestimate the potential for small site contributions. In more rural areas, this perhaps becomes more important as some settlements may feel stifled by an overly-restrictive settlement hierarchy.
Asking ‘what if?’ is a useful question. What if the sites don’t come forward as the trajectory plots (hint, they won’t)? What if you get more enquiries for start-up space than you have ever had? Flexible policies can help. If the Housing White Paper proposal for mandatory plan reviews every five years becomes a reality, building flexibility into your policies will help make that process much less painful.
Setting all this out clearly should lead to a well-structured plan that deals with the local issues, rather than reading like a checklist of ‘policies we think we need to satisfy an Inspector’.
Good policy writing skills are also essential. Think about the end user. Test policies out with development management colleagues and consider setting up, or using an existing, developer panel.
Also important to remember is that meeting strategic objectives requires genuine consideration of joint plans or policies. Agreeing principles to go into a shared policy gets around the issue of plans coming forward at different times. Working on a ‘no surprises’ basis is important too. This is an agreement to keep each partner informed. For example, a list of upcoming meetings, reports or decisions so that there is no apparent sudden change of direction or purposefully withholding information to further a case.
Remember that major development in one area doesn’t have to be on the border with another for it to have a significant impact on that area. Dialogue, governance and agreeing principles go a long way, even if you never have a joint plan or even a shared policy.
Read about all these points and more in the case studies on the PAS website at https://www.local.gov.uk/pas
Adam Dodgshon is urban planning consultant at Citiesmode