Too many local plans fail on 'duty to cooperate' shortcomings, say planning officers

Out-Law News | 24 Feb 2014 | 3:44 pm | 1 min. read

The duty on local authorities to cooperate with other councils during the preparation of local plans is challenging and should be restructured, the UK Planning Officers Society (POS) has said.

The POS issued a manifesto (4-page / 102KB PDF) last week in which it called on the next UK government to restructure and refocus the existing plan-making system to ensure it is "optimised to do its job as effectively and efficiently as possible".

The POS said that the duty to cooperate, which was introduced by the Localism Act, is challenging and leads to too many plans failing, "particularly in terms of establishing cross boundary objectively assessed housing need and cooperating with authorities at different stages in plan production".

It said that the requirement for local authorities to work together to prepare and agree strategic overviews of cross boundary issues should be tackled to ensure the overview would complement other strategies in the area.

"Without a clear understanding and agreement on the resolution of the cross boundary issues that underpin plan preparation and the creation of suitable governance arrangements to support preparation, implementation and monitoring, future stages of plan preparation will be undermined," the document said.

The POS called on the government to recognise that the duty to cooperate is an on-going process and that development plan reviews will therefore become more frequent. "Indeed it is inevitable that strategic matters will emerge during plan preparation and may necessitate an early review of the plan," it said.

The manifesto also said that the soundness test carried out towards the end of the local plan process undermined the potential weight that could be awarded to an emerging plan. It recommended that the test should be carried out at an early stage to ensure there was a "clear process for the plan to gain weight in decision making as it progresses through the system to final adoption".

"It is considered that this restructuring and refocusing of the existing plan-making system could save time in the process overall because it ensures that resources by all parties are put into the process only where they are needed and it is done in a logical sequence thereby avoiding wasted effort," said POS senior vice president Dave Evans in a statement." 

"Our offer is to help ensure that a community's needs, particularly for housing, are met through the planning system," added POS president Mike Kiely. "We consider that there are features of the current system that need refinement to ensure that they work better and serve our communities well."