The plan-led system is evolving: the Scottish reforms are being rolled out, while proposed reforms have been announced in England.
The basic principle is that planning decisions must be made in accordance with the provisions of "the development plan", unless "material considerations" indicate otherwise.
In Scotland, the definition of "the development plan" is being amended (the Planning (Scotland) Act 2019 is not fully in force yet):
- the National Planning Framework will be part of "the development plan" rather than a material consideration
- strategic development plans are being abolished
- new plans – the regional spatial strategies and local place plans - will not be part of "the development plan"
- if there is a conflict between parts of "the development plan" – ie. the NPF and an LDP - whichever is the later in date will prevail
Different changes are proposed in England. The Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill Part 2 proposes:
- the introduction of "national development management policy", to be designated by the Secretary of State by direction
- planning decisions to be made in accordance with the provisions of "the development plan and any national development management policies"
- if there is a conflict, the national development management policies will supersede the development plan policies
- material considerations have to "strongly indicate otherwise" to supersede "the development plan and any national development management policies"
"strongly indicate otherwise"
The "strongly indicate otherwise" proposal gives more weight to the development plan and any national development management policies – the Policy Paper refers to "A genuinely plan-led system". For developers that's mixed news: it will make it harder for councillors to refuse permission for allocated sites; but it might make it harder to persuade planning authorities to depart from out-of-date plans. It also makes disputes about interpretation of policies much more significant.
It will be interesting to see if any guidance is given on how "strongly" should apply in practice; and if the courts decide it is an issue of planning judgment.
National v local
Although the routes are different, in both Scotland and England national policies are being elevated to the development plan side of the balancing exercise. That saves every LDP/ local plan having to repeat standard development management policies; but in Scotland the whole NPF will be part of "the development plan", not just the development management policies.
In England, if there is a conflict, the national policies prevail (is that "A genuinely plan-led system"?); in contrast the later in date provision in Scotland means that an LDP could be given more weight than the NPF, but the objection and examination procedures mean that an LDP which is inconsistent with the NPF is unlikely to be adopted.