Having worked in the Local Planning teams of local authorities prior to my role in advising clients on the Local Plan process, I have been all too aware of the difficulty in accessing information about the status of Local Plans throughout the country.
I always felt that a nation-wide resource would have infinite benefits to local authorities – enabling them to gain an immediate overview of Local Plans in their region, to draw comparisons nationwide, and to better understand the Local Plan progress of local authorities with similar challenges and demographics.
So working with colleagues who have a complementary insight from their private sector experience, we have developed a tool which does all this and more.
Carter Jonas’ Live Local Plan Monitor is a unique web-based resource which provides comprehensive information on adopted plans, emerging plans, consultations and councils’ housing supply. It is an up-to-date snapshot of local planning which helps aid decision-making, and will create a level of insight not previously available.
The microsite for the South and South West has been launched, and drawing on Carter Jonas’s presence through the UK, the national picture will be complete shortly.
The tool is designed to benefit plan-making on many levels. For example, individuals and community groups tend to find strategic planning an abstract process and one which isn’t always accessible. Councils naturally present information differently, timescales vary and the process of commenting on a consultation isn’t always clear. The tool will provide a simpler point of access for statutory consultees and representative groups and enable them to understand their own local authority in a broader context. Through ease of access, individuals will be better placed to take part in consultations on strategic planning and might also use the tool as a portal in the same way as they might use Zoopla or the Ofsted website when making decisions about relocating.
Creating this functionality at a time when the planning system is potentially undergoing significant change makes it particularly pertinent. If the proposals contained within the Planning White Paper are enacted, the Local Planning process will change considerably. It is proposed that most consultation in planning will take place at the Local Plan stage, rather than at the application stage, with local people opting to ‘zone’ areas for ‘growth’, ‘renewal’ or ‘protection’. To avoid losing the benefits of public input into planning, there is a greater need for accessibility, which this tool delivers. And importantly, the microsite has been designed in such a way that its structure and functionality will not alter as changes to strategic planning are introduced. As the old and new systems coexist, it can present data on both. For senior local government officials, it will present a useful means of understanding the progress of councils nationwide.
Another challenge to local authority planning is administrative changes: the increase in regional plans, of shared planning teams, and of moves towards unitary status – and potentially a more substantial shake-up to come if the two-tier system is replaced nationwide. Again, a tool of this nature is incredibly helpful at times of change and because updates to the website are immediate, information about neighbouring local authorities can be gleaned at the touch of a button.
Please have a look at the new tool, get in touch with your views and let us know what more we can do to make it work for you.
Peter Canavan is associate planning partner at Carter Jonas