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Step 4: Examine the Development Plan

Planning decisions are made in accordance with your area's Development Plan.

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The next thing to do is to look at your area's development plan.

A development plan sets out agreed planning policies for your area and is the background against which planning decisions are made. It consists of the Local Plan for your area, and also any Neighbourhood Development Plans that are in force.  Most local planning authorities now publish their plans online. Your local library will keep a hard copy, or you can buy one direct from your local planning authority.

The final decision on any planning application must be taken in accordance with the development plan for the area, unless special circumstances (known as material considerations) apply.

When deciding what stance to take on a planning application it is vital to study the development plan closely and identify any policies that are relevant to the case. Be prepared to quote these policies when you put forward your arguments for or against the proposal. If policies in the plan contradict your stance, you will need to argue why they do not apply in this particular case.

What's in the development plan?

The development pan is made up of a number of documents.

It will include any Development Plan Documents from your district or borough authority's Local Plan. Every local planning authority is required to prepare a Local Plan, which outlines how the area will develop over the following 20 years or so. A new style of Local Plan was introduced in 2004, called a Local Development Framework. These are now referred to simply as 'Local Plans', but their basic structure remains the same.

Before 2004, development plans were made up of Local Plans from district councils, Structure Plans by counties and Unitary Development Plans by unitary authorities. Some authorities' development plans will still include 'saved' policies from these old plans, as they're still working on their new post-2004 development plan.

Regional Spatial Strategies used to form part of the development plan but were abolished by the Localism Act 2011.

The Localism Act also introduced a new neighbourhood planning tier. If Neighbourhood Development Plans are developed in your area and go through a referendum successfully they will also become part of your development plan.

Which plan to use

You may find that more than one version of the development plan is available on your local planning authority's website. You need to focus on the version that is 'formally adopted', because this will carry the most weight with decision-makers. However, sometimes the formally adopted version is some years old, and the local planning authority is in the process of updating or producing a draft new plan. If the formally adopted plan is over five years old, and/or the draft plan has already been through at least one round of consultation, then the draft plan is also likely to have some force.

Supplementary Planning Documents

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Green belts in England

Supplementary Planning Documents, usually included in the Local Plan, can give further context and detail to development plan policies. These documents can include design guides, or address development in a certain neighbourhood or affordable housing policy for the area.

These documents are not part of the statutory development plan. They don't have the same weight when local planning authorities are considering planning applications. But they can be a material consideration. They are likely to be particularly useful if the authority consulted the public during their preparation and they've been subject to a council resolution by the local planning authority adopting them. Public consultation is required before any new Supplementary Planning Documents can be considered to carry weight in decisions on planning applications.

Material considerations

Material considerations can include:

  • government policy;
  • opinions put forward during the application stage;
  • the designated status of a site or its surroundings (for example, if it's an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty);
  • the planning history of the site - including existing planning permissions, previous refusals and appeals; and
  • the effect on a conservation area or listed building.

A particularly important new material consideration, called the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development', is currently being introduced as part of the new national planning policy document, the National Planning Policy Framework. The presumption in favour of sustainable development states that if a development plan is 'absent, silent, indeterminate or where relevant policies are out of date' with regard to a development proposal, planning permission should be granted.

Two types of policies in development plans

Development Plan Documents are generally made up of two types of policies: site-specific and generic development control (or general) policies.

Site-specific policies set out how the local planning authority will deal with planning applications in a particular place, such as a conservation area.

General policies set out how the local planning authority will deal with planning applications for particular types of development, such as housing, retail or industry. These sometimes include strong indications of the locations that the local planning authority does - and does not - consider suitable for a given type of development.

If the development plan doesn't say what you want it to

If the plan clearly implies support for a proposal you are opposed to, and material considerations don't help, you may need to consider adjusting your stance. It may be that trying to improve the details of the planning application is the best approach to take. It's worth checking whether local policies are in line with current national planning policy. If not, they carry less weight.

Influencing future development plan policies

You will not be able to overturn a policy in the development plan simply by opposing a planning application. However, you may be able to influence your area's development plan when it's updated, so that it better represents the interests of your community and environment.

Development plans and national policy

Plans at the local level have to generally agree with national planning policies. If you are dealing with a more substantial planning application, you may find that these general policies are also relevant in their own right.

Higher level planning policy is set out in the National Planning Policy Framework and National Planning Practice Guidance. National policy covers a broad range of topics, including Green Belt and flood risk.

NextStep 5: Decide on your action

Further reading

Local Plans
Neighbourhood planning

Reference information

Local Development Frameworks