SussexWorld housing campaign: What is a local plan? What do they contain? Do I have a say in them?

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As part of our campaign on housing levels in Sussex, we are producing a series of explainers to help readers understand more about the planning system and its effect on our county.

This piece explains the basics about local plans.

See our campaign piece here to find our what we are calling for.

What is a local plan?

A Sussex site at risk of developmentA Sussex site at risk of development
A Sussex site at risk of development

A local plan is a detailed document produced by a council to map out the future of its area.

What is in a local plan?

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Local plans tend to attract attention in regards to housing, as they set out how many new homes should be built – and where.

But local plans cover more than just housing. The government’s website states: “Plans set out a vision and a framework for the future development of the area, addressing needs and opportunities in relation to housing, the economy, community facilities and infrastructure – as well as a basis for conserving and enhancing the natural and historic environment, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and achieving well designed places.

How long does a local plan last?

Local plans generally cover a period of about 15-20 years.

How often are local plans updated?

The National Planning Policy Framework – the government’s national planning policies – states policies in local plans should be reviewed to assess whether they need updating at least once every five years, and should then be updated as necessary.

What is the government’s role in local plans? What is a local plan examination?

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Before being approved, local plans must be ‘examined’ by a planning inspector. Planning inspectors are appointed by the government and they hold a series of public hearings known as local plan examinations to scrutinise a local plan. This is an opportunity for everyone to have their say, from residents to developers, about whether the plan is the right approach – and importantly the inspector must decide whether it is complies with national planning laws.

Inspectors will often propose modifications to plans in order to make sure they do so. Once a plan has passed the examination process, councils vote to approve them – known as ‘adoption’. Before being adopted, you may hear them being referred to as ‘draft local plans’.

How are local plans put together?

Councils have to produce lots of evidence to inform their plans – including studies on suitable places to build new homes and traffic surveys. This can include commissioning studies with help from external consultants. The process as a whole can take years.

Can I have a say on a local plan?

Yes. Public consultation is part of the process of putting a local plan together. This includes in the early stages of the plan and when it has been drafted.

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If plans for a housing development are included in a local plan, will they definitely be developed?

Although inclusion of a site for housing in a local plan is a good indication it is likely to be developed in the future, it is not a guarantee. Being included in a local plan does not mean a site has planning permission. A planning application must be submitted and approved before building starts. See our explainer on planning applications

It is important to note that, as local plans cover a long period of time, some developments included in a plan may not be envisaged to go forward for some time.

What is a neighbourhood plan and how does it differ to a local plan?

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Neighbourhood plans were introduced under the Localism Act 2011. They were introduced to give local communties the power to shape the future of their own areas – smaller areas than those covered in local plans, which are borough or district wide. They are not produced by local planning authorities and are led by either town or parish councils or groups known as neighbourhood forums.

According to the National Association of Local Councils, neighbourhood plans cannot be used to prevent development included in a local plan.

Why has the neighbourhood plan system been criticised in the past?

Neighbourhood plans sit alongside the relevant local plan for the area and on occasion, the process has been criticised because sites not earmarked for housing in neighbourhood plans have been built on anyway.

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The National Association of Local Councils highlighted one such reason for this: “There is the requirement that a principal authority must be able to demonstrate a five-year supply of housing land (or, since December 2016, a three-year supply if there is an adopted neighbourhood plan which identifies specific sites for development). If it cannot, policies for the supply of housing in the development plan (including any neighbourhood plans) are considered out of date. This means that the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ is triggered, making it very much easier for speculative development that would otherwise have been considered inappropriate or unsustainable to gain planning permission.”


Our campaign so far

See our launch piece on our campaign and why we launched it here

MPs have given their view on the campaign. See their thoughts here

Here is what council leaders think – click here for more details.

And readers have written in support of our campaign, too. Click here for the full story.

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