6 October 2021
WHY THE EXETER LOCAL PLAN IS IMPORTANT AND HOW TO INFLUENCE IT
Exeter City Council has begun the first formal stage in the development of a new Local Plan. As much of the published guidance and the consultation documents are written in ‘planning-speak’, this is a simplified guide to what it’s about and how we can get involved.
What is a Local Plan?
Put simply, a Local Plan sets out the policies and sites which guide all decisions on planning applications – in other words, how land and buildings are used - over the life of the Plan, so covering the years to 2040. Applications for individual developments must normally be in line with the Plan. The purpose is to provide a degree of certainty for developers, homeowners who want to make changes, people buying a home and Exeter’s residents generally.
Why is the Local Plan important?
At a higher level, the Local Plan is a major – perhaps the major – influence on what our city will look like. The Plan will allocate areas for new housing, regeneration, leisure, green space, industry, retail, transport links and other uses. It will also be the defining planning tool for reducing our carbon emissions.
The Conservative government proposed radical simplification of the planning system which, if implemented, would give developers a free rein to build pretty much what they like as long as it is in an area zoned for the purpose of the development. For example, there would be scope for a developer to build a 10-storey block of flats on a vacant plot in the middle of a residential estate of two-storey houses and there would be nothing the local authority could do to stop it.
These proposals have been “paused” by the government, but there’s no guarantee they won’t resurface. Even if they don’t, getting the Plan right remains essential if people are not to be surprised several years later by a new road running past their back garden because no one objected when the Plan was being drawn up.
How is the Local plan drawn up?
The Plan will take account of various studies – which should be published – about the pressures to which the area needs to respond (e.g. flooding or housing). It also has to conform with the National Planning Policy Framework. But it should also reflect as far as possible what local people say they want.
The Plan goes through various stages: this first stage is about defining the scope of the Plan, i.e. the issues that it will cover. If you believe that planning guidance is needed on where we should have shops, parks, housing and so, say so now. If you think the Plan should be tough on measures to reduce carbon emissions, increase traffic-free streets, freeze road development, and so on, say so now.
The responses to this first consultation should inform the first full draft of the Local Plan. This is due out for public comment in September 2022 – though if past form is anything to go by that date will slip.
Following the responses to the first draft, a further draft plan will be produced which will almost certainly be reviewed at a public enquiry in 2023 (unless government policy changes).
How do we comment at this stage?
All the documents and questionnaires are on the Council’s website. It asks that you answer the questions as they are set out on line but don’t be constrained in answering. If you want to make a relevant point, make it!
There is also a draft Statement of Community Involvement, again for comment. This is a statutory requirement, and much less important in the long run than the Plan itself. However, it can be a useful lever if you think your views are being ignored.
Planners will not want to talk to individual members of the public, though they will undoubtedly have private meetings with developers, house builders, planning consultants and the like. The ways round this are:
(1) to group together, perhaps through your local community association, and ask for a meeting with them as a representative body, maybe ask about how to develop a Neighbourhood Plan for your local area, and
(2) tell your city councillor your views, at a high volume, if the planners refuse to meet you.
Above all, ACT NOW. The consultation closes on 15 November 2021.
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