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What the Local Plan contains

Local Plans set out the strategic priorities for development of an area and cover housing, commercial, public and private development, including transport infrastructure, along with protection for the local environment. They comprise a series of documents that should set out clear guidance on what development will and won't be permitted in your area.

The Local Plan should plan positively for the development and infrastructure communities need, setting out the strategic priorities for the area in the Local Plan. This should include policies to deliver:

  • housing, including affordable homes;
  • retail, leisure and other commercial development;
  • infrastructure for transport, minerals, waste, energy, telecoms, water supply and sewage treatment;
  • education, health, police and community facilities;
  • energy, including from renewable sources;
  • protection and enhancement of the natural and historic environment, including landscape, wildlife, open space, listed buildings and archaeology; and
  • protection of homes and property from flooding from rivers and the sea.

Local Plans should be aspirational but realistic. They should address the spatial and land use implications of economic, social and environmental change. Local Plans should set out the opportunities for development and clear guidance on what will or will not be permitted and where.

Spatial planning

Spatial planning is also called 'place shaping' and has a wider focus than traditional land use planning. It's about identifying a vision for the future of a place which responds to local needs and circumstances, including community views, and is based on evidence. This vision is translated into priorities, policies and the identification of land for development. Spatial planning creates a framework for private investment and regeneration. By agreeing a delivery plan, it seeks to co-ordinate and deliver public-sector parts of the plan with other agencies. Spatial planning should set a positive framework for action on climate change, and contribute to sustainable development.

Local Plans must:

  • Plan positively for the development and infrastructure required in the area to meet the objectives, principles and policies of the National Planning Policy Framework.
  • Be drawn up over an appropriate time scale, preferably a 15-year time horizon, take account of longer term requirements, and be kept up to date.
  • Indicate broad locations for strategic development on a key diagram and land use designations (e.g. nature reserves) on a proposals map.
  • Allocate sites to promote development and other uses of land, providing detail on form, scale, access and the amount of development where appropriate.
  • Identify areas where it may be necessary to limit freedom to change the uses of buildings.
  • Identify land which it is genuinely important to protect from development, for instance because of its environmental or historic value.
  • Contain a clear strategy for the environmental enhancement of the area.

Plans that you may come across

Under the 2004 Act local planning authorities were required to have a Local Development Framework. This is a collection of Development Plan Documents of which the Core Strategy is the central one. Other Development Plan Documents can include Site Allocations, Development Management Policies, and Area Action Plans (all of which are optional).

The Government has consolidated the plan preparation process through the Localism Act 2011. Local planning authorities are required to have a Local Plan. As with the old Local Development Frameworks, Local Plans may be made up of a number of different DPDs. However, local planning authorities need prepare only one plan, and they can decide what the Local Plan should contain. They can choose to prepare other DPDs but must have a good reason to do so.

Different local planning authorities may therefore have in place, or prepare, a range of plans:

  • The Local Plan must consist of a Core Strategy, Site Allocations, and a Proposals Map. The Core Strategy sets out the strategic vision and objectives for the area - how it will look in 15-20 years' time, and what the key things are to be achieved. It sets out the plan's 'spatial strategy' - what the general location of development will be, including any significant areas of change or conservation, shown on a key diagram. The Site Allocations identifies specific locations needed for development, such as urban extensions to increase the size of a town or city, new settlements, or the locations of major regeneration or redevelopment schemes. These allocations must be shown on the Proposals Map. The Local Plan can also include more general policies to guide how development takes place, what issues developers must take into account, and how development should look (Development Management Policies).
  • Development Management Policies can also be set out in their own DPD if they are not included in the Core Strategy.
  • Area Action Plans are DPDs that guide the development of a specific site or location, for example a town centre, or other places where significant change is planned.
  • Supplementary Planning Documents (SPDs) provide detailed guidance on how to support the plans and policies in DPDs, for example guidance on design, or what facilities developers should plan for to accompany their developments (e.g. for sport and play). SPDs are not DPDs and do not require independent examination.

How to find out more

6 Weeks

the minimum time the local planning authority must consult on the final draft of its Local Plan

You can find out which plans your local planning authority wants to prepare, and when, in their Local Development Scheme, which you can find on the planning policy pages of their website. This should set out a programme for the preparation and review of the Local Plan. The timetables are a good starting point for planning your input to the Local Plan process.

Top tip

The Local Development Scheme will tell you what plan(s) the local planning authority intends to prepare and what stage has been reached. You can use it to keep track of progress, and to work out when to get involved.

The monitoring report

If in doubt, speak to your local planning authority - your local plans team will be able to help

Local planning authorities must report on the progress that has been made in carrying out the development planned in the Local Plan in a monitoring report.

This provides useful information on how development is progressing, such as the number of affordable homes which have been built in the area over the last few years. This information should be available on the local planning authority's website, and forms part of the evidence base on which the Local Plan is prepared.

Further reading

What Local Plans can and cannot do