Land Allocation/Plan Making

In general, the land allocation process focusses on identifying appropriate sites with the capacity to accommodate forecast need for population growth as well as growth in economic activities. A number of studies involving demographic forecasting, analyses of environmental and infrastructure constraints and capacity, identification of environmental and cultural heritage, and so on, will be conducted to inform major strategic planning processes. In most cases, spatial plans applying to a particular region or settlement will be prepared in the context of an overriding policy framework set by a higher level of government (which might comprise a single document, such as the National Planning Guidance which binds planning authorities in England and Wales) and/or a series of policy documents and advice. Increasingly, the European Union is influencing the planning processes of member states, including directing that certain land use plans are subject to ‘strategic environmental assessment’—designed to evaluate and mitigate the likely environmental impact of all development anticipated by the plan (Fischer 2010).

This plan making process will include a period of public exhibition, with opportunities for written submissions to be considered before the plan is adjusted (if judged appropriate) and finalised. Where the planning process relates to an existing community (rather than a new subdivision or town on a ‘greenfield’ site) additional time may be needed to resolve the range of issues that arise for existing residents. The plan itself will be articulated through legally enforceable guidelines or controls which relate to particular sites (typically shown on a map) and/or development types (such as housing or industry).

Ideally, the strategic planning process will provide maximum certainty for landholders and community residents as to what development will be permitted in particular areas, and under which circumstances. However, the need for as much certainty as possible notwithstanding, there is a tension between specifying all of the rules or parameters to govern developments in advance and providing for the flexibility to assess particular developments on their own merits. Further, a considerable amount of data is needed to ensure that land use plans accommodate future demands and opportunities, without jeopardising important social or environmental values. When there are limited resources for detailed ‘strategic’ planning, and monitoring, research might be deferred to the development assessment stage, when aspiring developers will be required to fund and undertake the studies needed to inform the decision-making process.

The process of land allocation will always be contentious given that planning decisions about the potential use of particular sites represent considerable economic value for landowners. Further, it can be difficult to reverse a land use planning designation/decision without compensation.

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