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A local plan that supports growth and looks beyond numbers

16 January 2018 Author: Uyen-Phan Han

Preparing local plans require a significant amount of time, resources and skills against the backdrop of ever shrinking planning departments and constant changes to the planning system. Despite this, there are now more local plans in place than ever before, demonstrating a certain resilience within the system and those that operate within it.

Plans, however, are not an end to themselves, but just the beginning of a process that sees towns and cities transformed into the likeness of a vision that was set as many as 20 years before. In January 2017 Birmingham City Council adopted the Birmingham Development Plan 2031, which will provide 51,000 new homes, significant employment development and supporting infrastructure, including planning for the arrival of High Speed Rail 2 in the heart of the city centre.

Birmingham Smithfield

Birmingham Smithfield development is a city-centre mixed used scheme 

The city’s population is projected to grow significantly by 156,000 people by 2031. The plan identifies ten key growth areas, including an urban extension for 6,000 homes at Langley and a 71 ha employment site at Peddimore - both allocated on land removed from the green belt.  

Birmingham has to accommodate significant housing growth, but the emphasis of the Development Plan is not purely on numbers or how much green belt has been released. It focuses on planning for the right amount and mix of homes in the right places...

The Council therefore follows a positive ‘growth agenda’ under which it seeks to work with public and private sector partners to deliver new investment and use this to make Birmingham a better and more sustainable place. The city had explored all reasonable options to maximise growth within its boundary, but there remained a housing shortfall of approximately 38,000 dwellings which is to be met by our neighbouring authorities through the duty to cooperate.

We were recently approached by the Planning Advisory Service to use the Birmingham Development Plan as a case study for ‘What Good Looks Like’ in local plans. The handful of case studies, of which Birmingham is one, looks at the adopted plan, the inspectors’ report, and parts of the evidence base to provide points of learning.

It’s interesting to read a review of the Plan from another planner’s perspective. One of the positive comments on the Plan was how clear it is in terms of strategy, language, and layout. The Plan sets out how the strategy will be delivered covering first the spatial policies and then the thematic ones.

The spatial policies focus on the ten key growth areas, setting out the reasons why they are identified, the amount of development to be delivered and how it will be delivered. Each growth area policy has been developed with a deep understanding of the issues that need to be addressed and clearly signpost to supporting detailed guidance or future ones that will be prepared – all of which have place-making at their heart. The thematic policy sections then cover each of the themes that link back to the objectives and vision. ‘The thread is clear and the plan is internally consistent,’ the review said.

Birmingham has to accommodate significant housing growth, but the emphasis of the Development Plan is not purely on numbers or how much green belt has been released. It focuses on planning for the right amount and mix of homes in the right places, recognising that each area forms part of a wider strategy which seeks to make Birmingham a better place to live in the long run.

...there are numerous ways in which to make local plans more positive, effective and resilient for the future.

Moving from policy to implementation, the Langley Sustainable Urban Extension and Peddimore Supplementary Planning Documents will shortly be published for consultation and planning applications are expected to be submitted later this year. Once again, the key development principles are around high quality design, great place making and integrating and connecting new development with the surrounding area and existing communities.

The Plan is the final outcome of a long process that has been followed - a process that in many ways can and must be improved and streamlined for the benefit of and all.

From setting a proportionate evidence base, simplifying the Sustainability Appraisal process and strengthening the duty to cooperate, to making public consultation and the planning inspectorate more effective, publishing guidance on green belt reviews and standardising the method for assessing employment and housing need - there are numerous ways in which to make local plans more positive, effective and resilient for the future.

Birmingham City Council will be speaking at RTPI West Midlands Planning for Economic Growth conference on 1 March. More information and registration here

Guest blogs may not represent the views of the RTPI.

Uyen-Phan Han

Uyen-Phan Han

Uyen-Phan Han is Planning Policy Manager at Birmingham City Council.