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Key components of the planning system

Planning decisions are affected by national guidance, European law, and by the development plan for your area, which includes the Local Plan. This section explains these relationships and why Local Plans are a key part of this.

Key components of the planning system

The diagram below shows where Local Plans sit in the English planning system.


European law

The planning system is required to implement European law on assessing the impacts of plans on the environment and people. In the UK this process is called Sustainability Appraisal. European and UK law also requires public participation in the planning process.

Planning law

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 provides the main legal basis of the English planning system, as amended by the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. These Acts are implemented through regulations which provide the detailed procedures to be followed. Further changes were introduced by the Localism Act 2011, including the introduction of Neighbourhood Plans.

National Planning Policy Framework

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government's planning policies for England. It has replaced previous national planning policy, which was set out in Planning Policy Guidance notes (PPGs) and Planning Policy Statements (PPSs). National planning policy sets the framework within which Local Plans will be developed. The NPPF confirms the purpose of planning is to help achieve 'sustainable development'. The most commonly recognised definition is known as the 'Brundtland' definition:

Definition of sustainable development

'Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs'

(The Report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future, 1987)

The NPPF also incorporates the principles of sustainable development as agreed by the 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy. These principles give more detail on what sustainable development means in practice. They are: living within environmental limits, ensuring a strong, healthy and just society, achieving a sustainable economy, promoting good governance and using sound science responsibly.

Local Plans have a key role in delivering sustainable development:

  • They have an economic role (planning for prosperity) - they help to ensure that sufficient land of the right type, and in the right places, is available to allow businesses to set up and grow, and to be supported by infrastructure such as roads and railways.
  • They have a social role (planning for people and places) - they can promote strong, vibrant and healthy communities, by providing for housing, leisure and recreation facilities, shops and schools.
  • They have an environmental role (planning for the environment) - they help to protect and enhance landscapes and wildlife, historic buildings and archaeology, and they can help to ensure that water, minerals and energy are used more efficiently.

National Planning Practice Guidance

National Planning Practice Guidance was launched in March 2014 as a web-based resource. It follows a review of planning policy guidance undertaken by Lord Taylor of Goss Moor which began in October 2012.
The NPPF can be said to be the strategic vision and the NPPG how you put that vision into practice. It contains all information on a wide range of topics. The NPPG is in part a consolidation of circulars and advice on planning that have now been cancelled.
A raft of old guidance has been cancelled and practitioners should be careful to consult this list before relying upon any historic guidance document.

The development strategy

Local Plans are where the big decisions are made about the future of our cities, towns, villages and countryside

The law requires that planning decisions are made in line with the development plan, unless there are good reasons why this should not be done. These reasons are called 'material considerations'. The development plan is therefore at the heart of the system. The key components of the development plan are:

  • Local Plans, which must be prepared by all local district or unitary planning authorities for their area.
  • Neighbourhood Plans, which are voluntary, and are prepared by local communities.

Sustainable Community Strategy

Sustainable Community Strategies are prepared for every local authority area. These provide a strategy for promoting or improving the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area and contributing to the achievement of sustainable development. They set out the issues which are important to local people, and how they might be tackled, to move towards a 'vision' of how the place should be in the future.

The Local Plan translates aspects of the Sustainable Community Strategy into a plan for the future use and development of land.

Further Reading

The role of Local Plans

Reference information

Neighbourhood Planning
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