Local Planning Authorities Follow Dictates – But Try to Help, Too

The role of the LPAs has increased with the Localism Act. But it’s not all about throwing up barriers. These authorities serve as a valuable resource to investors.

The subject of local planning authorities (LPAs) in British development and community wellbeing is often discussed in adversarial terms. Indeed, there is a tug-and-pull historically in all development, with perhaps greater attention to this in the information-rich Internet era. But in fact the charter of LPAs includes a great deal of transparency in the mission to ensure healthy growth in partnership with investors, developers and builders.

An illustration of the traditional image of planning authorities might be seen among the petitions circulated en masse via the social media site Change.org. The small market town of Barnstaple in North Devon was being faced with a decision on whether a national supermarket should be allowed into the area. The petition cited reasons why locally-owned food retailers should instead be spared the competition.

And such is the lot of the LPAs. But several requirements of UK laws (particularly as made statutory duty in Schedule 4B of the 1990 Localism Act) are referred to as the local authorities’ “duty to support,” realised with workshops, advisories and other means of communicating how development can and should happen. Among these supports and mandates are the following:

Make data available – In the spirit of being evidence-based, state clearly what local housing needs are, how viable new development might be (and according to what considerations), what the flood risks are and what kinds of environmental designations exist. Joint investment advisors can take this information to those considering UK land investment so that they understand the risks and opportunities of specific properties.

Be consistent – Avoid prejudice in providing information, and in meeting with parties who propose and oppose changes.

Be proportional – The scope of the activity (size of project or community affected) determines the degree of attention it is to receive.

Be accessible and transparent – Through all available media, be clear on goals and objectives of local plans and the processes for zoning change considerations and deliberations.

Negotiate between neighbourhoods and the broader plan – Serve in an advisory role on what can be changed and what cannot, in the spirit of helping all to be maximally effective.

Town and country planning are of course the primary concern granted LPAs by the Localism Act 2011, which encompasses imposition of the Community Infrastructure Levy, authorisation of regionally important infrastructure projects, and social housing decisions and provisions.

When developers (and their investors) seek to get a land use reconsideration, it should be in accordance with previously developed plans. At the same time, the cession of decision-making power from national and regional to local authorities was made in part to allow flexibility. Nowhere is this more critical than allowing for and enabling the development of new housing, given the UK’s critical shortage of homes. It still needs to be in keeping with mandates for environmental protection, preservation of ancient monuments and archaeological areas and greenbelt lands, as well as feasible within existing or proposed infrastructure considerations (roads and highways, public transport, schools, water and other utilities).

Land investors largely work with hired specialists who are familiar with the plans and predispositions of the local planning authorities. This knowledge and familiarity with LPA protocol is exceptionally beneficial when, for example, an agricultural property, perhaps in disuse, might otherwise be considered for residential use.

Individuals interested in alternative investment funds such as land would do well to first consult an independent financial advisor. This counsel can help identify where land might fit into a real asset portfolio, and whether a strategic land partnership is the right path to take.

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