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Project

Local plans

A local plan sets out all local planning policies and decisions for authorities. It identifies how land is used, decides what will be built where and is used to determine all local planning decisions. Every local planning authority is required to update its local plan every 5 years.

Local plans are a rich source of information, but the data used to produce that information isn’t easily extracted. For example, a local plan might show a map of where housing will be built, but the data that made the map (such as addresses and coordinates) is not available.

Local plans are published in a wide range of formats and aren’t always consistent in what types of information they include, or how they define or represent that information. This makes it difficult to collect, use and compare data across local plans and difficult for machines to read the data.

The Digital Land team carried out a discovery project on local plans during summer 2019. We spoke with representatives of the main user groups of local plans in order to better understand their needs from local plans and the obstacles to those needs being met. The discovery identified users’ problems with extracting data from local plans and opportunities for solving some of these.

User needs

As a policymaker I need:

  • to know what stage a local plan is in the plan-making process ⇒ so that I can support local plan making
  • information in local plans to be more visible ⇒ so that I can help make plan making more effective and impactful
  • to be able to assess the context of local plans ⇒ so that I can assess context of planning decisions and offer support at the appropriate times
  • to know how current, accurate and feasible planning commitments within the documents are ⇒ so that I can understand where and when is offer support
  • to have oversight of policy delivery ⇒ so that I can assess the effectiveness of national policy
  • to know whether local authorities are on track to meet required housing figures ⇒ so that I can support housing delivery

As a local planning authority officer I need:

  • to match up the local plan making process to local government cycles ⇒ so that I deliver a sound plan in good time, making the most of resources
  • to ensure that the local community and stakeholders buy into the local plan making vision ⇒ so that I deliver a sound plan in good time, making the most of resources
  • to clearly understand the plan making process during examination ⇒ so that I can resource hearings and minimise uncertainty while a plan is being examined
  • visibility on neighbouring authorities’ emerging plans ⇒ so that I can collaborate across authorities and comply with the duty to co-operate effectively
  • to understand policy requirements and meet local needs while also managing a shifting policy and market environment ⇒ so that I can ensure the local plan delivers the best outcome for my area, now and in the future
  • guidance on how much evidence to gather and how to represent that evidence ⇒ so that we don’t gather excessive amounts of data and so that the data can be aggregated on a national level or for use in wider ranging applications including supporting Neighbourhood Plans

As a Planning Inspectorate (PINs) officer I need:

  • to know where local plans are in their production ⇒ so that we can resource and plan examinations
  • to have a reliable overview of local development schemes ⇒ so that we can have a provisional overview of a local plan’s content and timetable for publication
  • a reliable overview of the policy areas under review in an emerging local plan at the point it is submitted for examination and when it is adopted ⇒ so that we can resource and plan examinations

Phases

Discovery done

Alpha upcoming

Timeline

Late July

We presented our findings and agreed next steps with the planning directorate steering group.

Mid July

We ran workshops internally with the Local Digital team and stakeholders to share results and plan for alpha.

Late June

We completed a full analysis of discovery findings, ID user traits, pain points and user needs. We also created hypotheses for moving into alpha (or breaking the project down into several different alphas).

Early June

We completed interviews with 9 local authorities across England who are at various stages in their plan making process. We also completed interviews with neighbourhood planning experts to understand the use of local plans after they have been adopted.

24 May 2019

We ran a workshop with the housing policy team to learn about how they use local plans.

March - May 2019

We are meeting with local authorities across the country to understand the different Local Plan making processes, the challenges faced by those involved, and the data used throughout the process. This is a key part of our research into how digital tools could support the process of collecting and publishing data, and making local plans.

24 April 2019

We met with the Planning Inspectorate to learn about their involvement in monitoring emerging plans.

April 2019

We met with 2 councils in April to learn about their plan-making process.

28 February 2019

We ran a workshop with the planning policy team to learn about their needs around creating, monitoring and reviewing local plans.

February 2019

We started the discovery phase.

10 January 2019

We attended the ‘Answering the Housing Land Question - Building a Knowledge Base’ conference in Reading and participated in a panel on ‘Land: The State of Data and Information Availability’.

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