Local Plans are a key part of England’s planning system. You may have them referred to as the core strategy, an adopted proposal, or an adopted plan.
The Local Plan is a document made by the local planning authority (LPA), after consulting with the community, that sets out how the local area should be developed.
The document is then examined by the Planning Inspectorate to make sure it passes a set of tests outlined in the National Planning Policy Framework.
They’re supposed to be reviewed and updated once every five years. Many aren’t.
In fact – most Local Plans are out of date.
Analysing Local Plan data
I decided to look at exactly how many plans were out of date, and by how much.
After all, while you might not be able to affect the pace of the reviews, knowing where your local authority is in their plan can unlock some opportunities.
How many Local Plans are out of date?
232 Local Plans are out of date.
We have valid data on 367 Local Plans so this means that 63% of Local Plans are out of date.
Just how far out of date are some of these Local Plans?
Quick note – the above chart is a frequency chart or a histogram. It’s easily confused with a bar chart, but they have subtle but crucial differences.
Each bar represents a “bin”, or interval of the data. So the 10% bar shows the number of Local Plans which are between 0 and 10% of their progress. 20% – between 10% and 20%, and so on.
You can hover over the bars of the chart to get a clearer picture.
- 28 Local Plans are at 210% - 220% of their progress.
- In other words the average Local Plan is nearly six years overdue.
- The most out of date plans we found? Nine years overdue
Covid-19 and Local Plan updates
What about Covid-19? It’s fair to assume that already stretched planning departments would have found it hard to carry out reviews once lockdown hit and the pandemic started.
We found that 44 out-of-date Local Plans, or 12% of all Local Plans, were due to be updated after 16th March 2020, the date lockdown was announced.
So should we knock down our headline out-of-date finding, taking into account Covid-19? Not so fast.
We also found that 33 Local Plans, or 9% were updated during the same period. The earliest one being in April 2020.
Since these amounts are relatively comparable (12% and 9%), it’s fair to say that Covid-19 had little impact on Local Plan updates.
Want to know when your Local Plan is due to be reviewed, or if it’s out of date?
We put together a searchable table which shows where a Local Plan is in its five year timeline.
How are up to date Local Plans faring?
We’ve talked about the out of date Local Plans, but how are up to date Local Plans performing?
- All in all 135 out of the 367 Local Plans we have data on, or 36% have been reviewed and updated in the past five years
- The interval with the least number of Local Plans, is coincidentally the lowest. Six Local Plans are in the first 10% of their lifespan.
- The modal average (so the highest ranking interval) is just over the halfway point of a Local Plan’s lifespan. 22 Local Plans are at the 50-60% progress interval.
This can be good news for developers looking to work alongside local planning authorities. Too early in a Local Plan’s lifespan, and the LPA wouldn’t be interested in hearing your case. Too late, and their plans would be set in stone.
With a lot of plans being near the halfway point, developers in those LPAs, are in good stead to have some input on the next Local Plan.
Does a Local Plan being out of date affect housing targets?
We wanted to do a quick glance to see if a Local Plan being out of date had an effect on an LPA’s housing performance.
We pulled out the five most out of date Local Plans, the five most recently updated Local Plans, and looked at their housing performance data.
The answer surprised us.
A Local Plan’s lifespan seems to have little impact on its housing targets.
South Hams, the most overdue Local Plan, last updated in 2006, performed at 144% of its housing targets in 2020. It also built 7.4% more homes year on year.
Yet compare this to North Warwickshire, whose Local Plan was adopted end of September 2021, performed at 140% of its housing targets, yet delivered 36% fewer homes year on year.
There is no simple answer why an LPA overperforms or underperforms to its housing targets (otherwise the Housing Crisis would be solved by now), but an out-of-date Local Plan seems to be only one part of the equation – and a small one at that.
Looking to find better commercial opportunities?
The landscape of commercial development has changed in the last couple of years.
Which is why it has become more pressing for commercial developers to find sites with less competition.
Knowing a Local Plan’s review stage can help, but armed with more data, a commercial developer can find the right site before anyone else.
We cover more on this in our guide for commercial developers. Download it here.