The National Trust calls on the government to give councils an extra year to consult local communities on local plans.

New research has revealed that meeting a 12 month deadline for adopting a Local Plan has been unfeasible for potentially more than half of local authorities.

And with the March 27 deadline fast approaching there is a growing fear that many areas across England without a robust planning scheme in place will become vulnerable to developers looking to cash in on planning loopholes.

When the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was published last spring, a successful National Trust campaign helped ensure that local communities were given a voice on land use and protecting treasured areas through their council’s Local Plan.

However, research completed earlier this month by the National Trust and the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) found that 51 per cent of local planning authorities will not meet the March deadline. And around 27 per cent said it would take them more than a year from now for their local plan to be adopted. This reflects official information from the Planning Inspectorate that just under half (48 per cent) of local councils in England have had their local plan adopted already.

Without an adopted plan in place, local councils run the risk of being subject to “presumption in favour of sustainable development” as part of the NPPF – or in the more direct and colourful words of the planning minister, Nick Boles, that they will “expose themselves to speculative development”. This means that developers could gain an easy “yes” on the 55 per cent of England without national protection – such as land outside of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and designated green belts.

This is why the National Trust today has called on the government to extend the deadline by one year, to March 27 2014, to give all local communities an opportunity to shape their Local Plan and their area for future generations.

“Speculative development is the polar opposite of good planning,” said Peter Nixon, the National Trust’s Director of Conservation.

“The success of the National Planning Policy Framework depends entirely on local plans being adopted. This is why we suggested that councils should be given a further year to adopt their plans.

“A perfect storm of ever tighter council budgets, the loss of regional strategies and just 12 months to adopt new plans has been too much for many councils to bear.”

The message is one supported by planning minister Nick Boles himself. In his own speeches, Mr Boles has referred to planning “…through which villages, parishes and other neighbourhoods can take control of their future and decide for themselves how and where development should take place” as a revolutionary step forward.

Malcolm Sharp, president of the Planning Officers Society agreed that the original one year’s transition period was not long enough to complete the local plan process.

“Planning authorities are being asked to do local plans, support neighbourhoods, put the community infrastructure levy in place and negotiate infrastructure delivery,” he said. “It’s a big ask on them to keep all the balls in the air.”

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