Strategies for bringing forward development sites, including the Local Plan

The planning system can seem complicated at the best of times and the strategy for bringing forward development sites can be a long and stressful one. There are two important opportunities landowners could take advantage of to improve the prospects of successfully developing a site – land promotions during the preparation of a new local plan; and the registration of the site on the Brownfield Register.

The Local Plan Strategy

Every council in England and Wales is supposed to have a Local Plan to guide development over a 10 to 15 year period. The Plan consists of policies which set out how much development is needed and where it should be located. That will include the allocation of specific sites for particular uses, such as new housing or employment development. Other policies control issues such as the design of new developments.

When you submit a planning application, the council compare it against the policies in the Local Plan. If the application meets all those policy requirements, it will normally be approved; if it doesn’t comply with policy, then the application would usually be refused. 

How is a new Local Plan prepared?

As Local Plans only cover a set period, councils frequently replace them with new, more up-to-date Plans. Legislative provisions and government policy set out a strict process for preparing a new Local Plan. Essentially though, the process is quite straightforward and involves five key stages:

  1. Gather evidence on the challenges the council faces, and the level of development needed.
  2. Consider the various ways in which those challenges could be addressed.
  3. Settle on a preferred solution and turn it into a draft Local Plan.
  4. Revise the draft Local Plan based on comments and suggestions from the public.
  5. Ask the Planning Inspectorate to confirm that the Local Plan is sound and can be used for deciding planning applications.

Turning the Local Plan to your advantage

Each of those stages involves consulting local residents, landowners and developers for their views. This can include submitting your own evidence to the council. If you would like a particular type of development on your site, this provides an opportunity to influence the policies in the new Local Plan. The aim is to make sure that those new policies allow your development to take place, even if it would be prevented by policies in the ‘old’ Local Plan.

There are two key elements to land promotion:

  1. Submit evidence to the council showing why the development you are proposing is needed. This might be drawn from analysing the council’s own evidence or it could be brand new information you have prepared yourself. For example, you might submit evidence to show that the council needs to deliver a significant number of new homes in a particular town.
  2. Demonstrate why your site is suitable for the type of development that is needed. This requires specialist evidence relating to traffic, ground conditions, ecology, landscape and heritage. A masterplan for the proposed development is useful as well, to show how the development could look. Often there will be more than one potential site for the development that is needed; where possible, your evidence should show that your site is better than the alternatives.

The opportunity to promote your site through the new Local Plan doesn’t come around every year. Therefore, if you want to secure development on your site, it is crucial that you take the opportunity when it arises.

The Brownfield Register Strategy

Brownfield land are those sites which have been previously developed but are no longer in use (such as old industrial sites). The National Land Use Database (NLUD) estimates that around 55,000 hectares of brownfield land are currently available for development in England. Of course, not all these sites will be suitable for housing development and many will have high remediation costs.

Accordingly, to help identify suitable brownfield land for housing development, from the 31st December 2017 all local planning authorities in England have been required to maintain a Brownfield Land Register.  Such registers consist of a comprehensive list of all identified brownfield land that are suitable for housing (irrespective of their planning status) (Part 1).

Additionally, local planning authorities now have new powers, with or without application, to grant permission in principle (PiP consent) on brownfield land listed in the register. This means that such sites are principally approved for housing development subject only to technical detail consent. These sites will be listed in the register (Part 2) with the expectation that it will both encourage and speed up development of such sites.

How is a Brownfield Register reviewed and updated?

Local planning authorities are required to review their registers at least once a year. Reviews will ensure that sites which no longer meet the criteria for inclusion are removed and new sites are assessed and entered if it is appropriate to do so.

Turning the Local Plan to your advantage

Having your site listed on the Brownfield Register can significantly improve your prospects of securing planning permission. The most obvious advantage is your ability to apply for PiP consent instead of planning permission. Additionally, the National Planning Policy Framework, February 2019, (NPPF) provides the following specific benefits:

  • the use of brownfield land for housing will be given ‘substantial weight’ in local and neighbourhood planning policies and planning application decisions;
  • the reduction of affordable housing contributions for housing development on brownfield land by such sum proportionate to the equivalent existing gross floorspace of the existing buildings;
  • local planning authorities are required to take a proactive role in identifying and helping to bring forward land that may be suitable for meeting development needs, such as brownfield registers, using the full range of powers available to them; and
  • improved chances for land promotion in any new Local Plan.