Informing Local Development Plans

Under the Planning Act 2011, each of the new 11 new councils was given new powers to set local planning policy, through the preparation of new Local Development Plans (LDPs).


What is a Local Development Plan?

An LDP will guide future land use in a council area. Unlike previous area plans, which were one of several material planning considerations, once adopted, future development must be in accordance with the LDP unless other material considerations indicate otherwise. The LDP also identifies environmental designations which could restrict or preclude development.

The LDP will take account of the Council’s Community Plan, the Regional Development Strategy and other Departmental policies or guidance, but will essentially take the form of two Development Plan Documents (DPDs): the Plan Strategy and the Local Policies Plan.

The Plan Strategy sets out the Council’s objectives and strategic policies in relation to the development and use of land.

The Local Policies Plan sets out the Council’s local site specific policies consistent with the Plan Strategy.

Given the importance of the LDP it is vital that developers protect or promote their land assets – to understand their evolving LDP and engage in influencing it.


Why should I engage in the Local Development Plan process early?

Unlike previous area plans, where it was possible to persuade the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) that a particular site should be zoned for a particular use because it was more suitable than another site, the new LDPs will be subjected to a more rigorous and less flexible test. At an independent examination, the PAC will only consider whether a plan is “sound” i.e. is it rational and based on sound evidence.  There is no need to prove that a plan developed by the Council is the best plan, merely that it is “sound”.

Therefore, when the plan reaches the Independent Examination stage there will in fact be limited opportunities to influence the plan.


When to engage?

There are a number of stages in the Local Development Plan process. Most Councils have now published and consulted upon the “preferred options paper”, the first stage in the process. The next stage will be the publication of a Draft Plan Strategy which will be followed by a further consultation period and an independent examination. Following this the plan will either be adopted or referred back to the Council for re-consideration.

Once the Plan Strategy is adopted, the Draft Local Policies Plan will be published and consulted upon. The consultation period will be followed by an Independent Examination before the PAC following which the plan will be adopted or referred back to the Council.

Developers need to make representations in each of the consultation periods and make submissions to the Independent Examination.

As the DPDs progress closer to Independent Examination the opportunity to influence and inform the plan diminishes.


How do I influence an LDP?

Once adopted, the plan will be in place for up to 15 years. It is therefore vital that developers make representations and engage throughout the process and meet with local representatives.

When promoting your site you need to prepare a strong evidence base to support your development proposals.

In preparing their LDP, each council will be required to prepare a supporting evidence base to ensure that their proposals are ‘sound’.

Given the “soundness test” a key aspect of the evidence base will be that there is a need for the development.  If there is no need for housing sites, for example, the suitability of a site is largely irrelevant.  Developers should therefore invest time and resource in proving a need and demand for a particular type of development. This should include an analysis of the position of the host settlement in the hierarchy of settlements – the growth potential of a settlement is proportionate to its scale and level of service provision.

One part of the evidence base could be a ‘call for sites’ exercise through which the council will assess the availability of land for retail. The council will also need to demonstrate that they have sufficient developable land to deliver the future housing and employment needs in their district.

Developers need to act now to gather evidence and put forward their sites to local Councils to ensure that they are included in the Development Plans.

Tughans has a wealth of experience in representing developers in Local Development Plans. For further information contact Maria O’Loan at

While great care has been taken in the preparation of the content of this article, it does not purport to be a comprehensive statement of the relevant law and full professional advice should be taken before any action is taken in reliance on any item covered.