Fewer than one third of English councils have up-to-date local plan, say campaigners

Fewer than one third of English local planning authorities have an up-to-date local plan, according to new research by charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE).

According to a new CPRE research report, What's the plan?, 90 per cent of local planning authorities in England have an adopted local plan, with the remainder using older 'saved policies' from previous blueprints.

But its analysis of local plan coverage says that the majority of these adopted plans fail the two key criteria, set out in national planning policy, which it says must be met in order for a plan to be classed as up-to-date.

The first is that the plan must be less than five years old, or found not to require updating following a review, to ensure that it is consistent with updated evidence and national policy.

According to the CPRE analysis, which is based on freedom of information requests to England's 330 local planning authorities (LPAs), only 131 have adopted local plans that are less than five years old or have been updated or reviewed in the past five years. This figure equates to 39.7 per cent of all English LPAs.

The second criterion is that a council must be able to demonstrate that it has sufficient land identified in the plan or with planning permission to provide a five year supply of homes.

Only 101 local planning authorities, or 30.6 per cent, can be considered up-to-date because their local plan is both less than five years old and they can demonstrate a five year land supply, according to the CPRE's analysis.

The report estimates that 80 per cent of English local planning authorities will need to review an existing plan, or adopt a new plan, in order to meet the government's proposed 2023 deadline that all councils to be operating under an up-to-date plan.

"Even if all LPAs have an adopted plan in place by 2023, questions remain as to whether those plans will still be up-to-date by then, and for how long will they remain so," it says.

The report concludes that the government must decide if the 2023 deadline is a "one-off target", or if it plans to change processes to enable local authorities to keep their plans up-to-date.

In order for the government to help deliver full coverage of up-to-date local plans in England by the end of 2023, the CPRE makes recommendations, including that the government should: monitor and publish "at least annually" a summary of local plan coverage across England; monitor LPAs' housing land supply positions; produce guidance for LPAs on the process of reviewing and subsequently updating local plans, which it currently describes as "vague"; and simplify the structure of statutory plan documents across England, in order to improve usability and make it easier to monitor and maintain up-to-date plans.

Matt Thomson, head of land use and planning at CPRE, said the study's findings undermine claims by ministers that the planning system in England is plan-led.

He said: "The report found that national planning policies and the government's tests for local plans make it difficult for councils to adopt plans, and even harder for plans to be defined as 'up-to-date'.

"Having an out-of-date plan risks losing local discretion over development proposals, so there's already a massive pressure on councils.

"To turn this around, the government needs to give councils more support and consider how to redefine the test for plans being 'up-to-date' in order to reinvigorate democratically accountable, locally-led planning."

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government was approached for comment, but had yet to respond by time of publication.