Government urged to tackle "dawdling" councils over Local Plans

The Government must act to tackle "dawdling" by local authorities over adopting Local Plans for future development in their area, as more than a third have still not adopted one four years after the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework, MPs have said.

The Community & Local Government Select Committee also called for a "comprehensive review" of the NPPF before the end of the current parliament, saying DCLG has not carried out a "sufficient robust, objective and evidence-based monitoring, evaluation or review" since the policy was introduced in March 2012.

The committee has been conducting an inquiry into DCLG's proposed changes to the NPPF, which include broadening the definition of affordable housing, increasing the density of development amount commuter hubs, supporting more development on brownfield and smaller sites, and encouraging the delivery of Starter Homes.

MPs criticised councils, saying communities will not benefit fully from the NPPF unless they properly fulfil responsibility to publish and adopt Local Plans - yet 34 per cent of local authorities still have not adopted a plan and 17 per cent have not even published one.

Chair Clive Betts MP urged local government secretary Greg Clark to look again at a recommendation from the committee's predecessor that a statutory duty should be placed on local authorities to produce and maintain Local Plans.

Elsewhere, the committee welcomed the Government's delivery test to ensure housing meets identified local needs. However, it cautioned that the proposed consequences for under-delivery - that councils must allocate more land for development - may not, by itself, mean more houses will be built. It called on DCLG to review the plan and identify powers that councils ought to have to require or encourage developers to build out sites.

The committee said that while it supports the development of housing on brownfield land where it meets local needs, greater clarity is needed about the definition of "brownfield" and how a presumption in favour of development will work alongside brownfield site registers and permission in principle arrangements.

"We welcome many of the proposals in the Government's consultation. However, particularly at a time of significant change for the planning and housing sectors, it's important that people are reassured that the National Planning Policy Framework works effectively and that it supports sustainable development in their communities," Betts said.

"Councils need to do more to identify suitable brownfield sites and to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by getting an adopted Local Plan in place. The NPPF is designed to work side-by-side with local plans. It's simply not good enough that 34 per cent of local authorities don't have an adopted plan."

Cllr Peter Box, housing and planning spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: "Eighty-four per cent of councils have already published a Local Plan which identifies land, including brownfield land, which is suitable for housing. Any automatic assumption that brownfield sites are suitable for residential use, without enabling councils to consider issues such as location and the capacity of supporting infrastructure, is therefore unnecessary.

"A huge amount of research and multiple consultations are needed to ensure Local Plans reflect local opinions and map out development in an area not just over the coming years but over decades. Councils have always said that the process of getting plans in place would take time and the most important thing is to get them right.

"The planning system is not a barrier to housebuilding. Councils approve almost nine out of 10 planning applications but our recent analysis shows there are up to 475,000 homes with planning permission which are still waiting to be built. The drivers behind this are complex and beyond the influence of the planning system, such as access to finance, land affordability and the availability of skilled labour.

"Councils are desperate to clear this backlog and share the Government's frustration when housing delivery does not meet forecasts set out in Local Plans. Instead of applying a delivery test on councils, town halls need more powers to encourage developers to build homes more quickly and tackle our growing construction skills shortage, which the industry says is one of the greatest barriers to building."