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How are Local Plans performing? A data and mapping analysis

For the past year, our digital planning team has been researching how best to visualise central government data. The research was initiated by MHCLG’s data release around local plans adoption date in England, and looked into both the likelihood of people knowing the data existed and, even if they did, how comprehensible that data might be, especially to those without technical expertise.

From the insights gathered from that initial investigation we developed a prototype for an online map that would make the information more accessible. The subsequent overall positive response led us to further development with MHCLG data:

  1. Adoption time of the local plan: how long did it take to adopt this local plan?
  2. Plan period for adopted local plan: how long will the adopted local plan last for?
  3. Housing targets per local plan: how many homes are planned to be delivered per local plan?

These three additional online maps can be found here.

Interestingly, this data manipulation exercise also immediately highlighted further key insights:

  • The number of adopted local plans in England is high. As of May 2020, 91% of the local authorities (including cross-boundaries joint authorities) have adopted local plans. Which is to say that whilst 306 of the 336 local authorities have already adopted a local plan, the rest are either making their plan or in the process of adopting it. While this is in itself a positive indicator – local plans define where and what kind of developments are allowed and are as such one of the most important policy documents there are about a place  – it should be noted that even an adopted plan may still need regular updating to reflect changes in priorities since its ‘adoption’. For example, housing targets frequently change dramatically, as can environmental policies, and so on, and all too often the pace of those changes can outstrip a local plan’s ability to document them. Which brings us to:
  • The time it takes to produce a local plan is too long. In some outlier cases, a plan can take as long as five years to be adopted, though data suggest that most of them (82%) take between one to two years. While at first glance this might not seem too long, these figures only capture the time from publication to adoption. Earlier stages such as the launch of the plan, public consultation on issues and options (regulation 18) and public consultation on publication plan period (regulation 19) are not counted in the adoption timeline, which in practical terms means that adoption times for these policy documents are much longer than the data might first suggest. During this time, huge political, economic, and technological shifts can occur  – just think of all the changes over the last five months alone! All of which means that shifting planning priorities renders any targets out of date before plans are even adopted. All of which means:

 

  • Our local plans are painfully behind the curve. The data shows that around a third of local plans cover planned developments for 20 years. But given the accelerating pace of change in the world around, how realistic is it to think that we even have the information to accurately plan our places for the next five years, let alone 20. Of those 306 local planning authorities with adopted plans, only 17 (5%) of them have plans started less than five years ago and nearly a third of them started in 2011– nearly a decade ago! Can it really make sense that how we plan today’s and tomorrow’s places is based on information and policies created 10-20 years ago? This perhaps explains why:

 

  • There is a deficit in the amount of planned homes. Based on adopted plans covering the years from 1993 to 2037, the total number of new homes to be built across that 44 year period is 4,108,696 – an average of 93,379 new homes per year. However we also know that central government wants to increase annual construction to 300,000 homes a year by 2025 – the disparity between those figures is punishingly stark, and throws into doubt that likelihood of central government’s target ever being delivered – how could it be if the local plans are so far out of line with it? Our initial research highlights that there simply aren’t enough homes allocated in our local plans to meet national housing targets or, vice versa, that the government’s targets haven’t taken into account Local Plans across the country. 

To resolve these issues we need more “live” information around planning and housing delivery to have a clear picture of the ‘true’ state of our nation. Without continuous, streamlined, decentralized and simultaneous data gathering and analysis around things like population growth, housing need, land supply, housing targets and housing delivered, we can merely speculate as to the true state of our industry – and the opportunities that we might be missing.

Connected Places Catapult is using its market-neutral position and domain expertise in digital planning to help accelerate the transition to a more designed, digital and data-led planning system. How can we reinvent the local plan? How can we install a system with more “live” data streams? We are already prototyping housing monitoring systems with Govtech and have just unveiled our Plantech Challenge Programme which brings local planning authorities together to combine funds to build the digital planning tools we need.

So please join the Plantech conversation. Let us know what further data could be added to the maps and data above, and what other features of the planning system you would like to see change and what other data should be publicly available? Contact us and join the conversation on Slack or #plantech.

By Nelio Matos, Senior Urban Technologist and Sebastien Herman, Junior Urbanist, Connected Places Catapult

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