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  3. Local plans

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 is working with local planning authorities to investigate ways that useful data might be extracted from local plans more easily and how the process of producing local plans might be improved.

Current areas of investigation

The following areas of investigation explore how the data could be used and made easier to work with:

In progress

What needs are we trying to address through opening up local plan data?

Questions we’re asking

To identify what data we want to make usable in local plans, we need to first understand who local plans are for and what people need from them.

What we’re testing

We’re conducting user research with local planning authorities, specifically investigating the quality and characteristics of the data – Is it binary? How often is it replicated? Who owns it?

What we’ve learned

  • few authorities have adequate record keeping systems that create reliable data, aside from a record of the plan being submitted (Regulation 19)

  • systems for tracking the progress of local plans are minimal or non-existent, as are standards for publishing local plans or related evidence or documentation

  • decisions that are normally communicated in a narrative often aren’t easy to record as binary data

  • the timing of the examination process isn’t clear, which creates uncertainty for local planning authorities and developers

In progress

A timetable for local plan production

Questions we’re asking

There is no central record of where local planning authorities are in the process of producing their local plans. Would creating a central record be useful to users of local plans?

What would a useful record of local plan production look like?

What are the obstacles to creating one?

What we’re testing

Our current local plan explorer allows planning authorities to update their planning timetables and others to view it.

What we’ve learned

We are continuing to test the prototype and analyse our findings for this area of investigation.

We’ve meanwhile arrived at a number of insights from our research around local plans:

  • creating a local plan is a very lengthy, involved process, and it’s often difficult to know the status of a local plan in the publication process, even by those involved in its creation

  • the length of the publication process means that accurate, up-to-date information isn’t always available

  • both of the above can result in uncertainty, which can slow or stop development and undermine a local planning authority’s ability to make decisions

  • there are tensions between the desire to produce a comprehensive local plan of the highest quality and the need to make the production process efficient and cost effective

  • a lack of standardisation in the process makes it difficult to create and maintain a central record

In progress

How are local plans created?

Questions we’re asking

What is the process for creating a local plan?

What steps are required, what data is needed, who is involved and what are their roles?

How does the process vary between local planning authorities and what are the implications of differences?

How much are communities consulted on plans and is there a role for data to support that?

What are the pain points in generating the data?

What we’re testing

We are researching the barriers, opportunities and challenges to data / record-keeping at different stages of plan production:

  • assembling plans

  • consulting on plans

  • approving / examining plans

  • using plans for future planning decisions

What we’ve learned

A lack of standardisation in the process of creating local plans mean that different local planning authorities create local plans in different ways, and with widely different outcomes that make the data difficult to extract and use. For example, the way authorities represent their targets for housing units varies widely, which means it’s difficult to make meaningful comparisons or contrasts between areas.

Upcoming areas of investigation

We plan to explore the following by prototyping tools and by testing and consulting with people involved with developer contributions, and responding to your feedback. We will regularly add updates to the following issues on GitHub:


Late July

We will present our findings and agree next steps with the planning directorate steering group.

Mid July

We will be running 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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