As the local government sector gradually transitions from the pandemic response to recovery, Capita’s Maeliosa Hardy offers some top tips for developing local plans.

As we navigate ourselves through these challenging times it is even more important for Planning to take an innovative and pragmatic approach to continue to progress local plans whilst adapting to the ongoing changes in our working conditions and wider communities.

Now, more than ever, it is important to be mindful of best practice to work as efficiently as we can whilst avoiding some of the common pitfalls that can cost valuable time and resource. Faced with the additional challenge of staff shortages due to sickness or redeployment, as well as adjusting to new ways of working, it is necessary to consider novel approaches and liaise with neighbouring authorities and local groups to work in collaboration, looking to share skills and knowledge where possible.

We should also explore and utilise alternative technologies to help advance the local plan programme and engage with key stakeholders and members through digital platforms. Adopting new ways of working together can also help overcome silo working, which in our experience is sometimes an issue in local authorities impacting on understanding on the ability of the local plan to facilitate delivery of wider corporate objectives. There is also an important benefit from collaboration to help fully utilise the purpose and timing between different pieces of work commissioned by the same authority or between cooperating authorities.

A key element of effectively managing the local plan programme is the need for a good project plan and a bespoke tool for monitoring individual tasks and milestones that all of the policy team understand, realise the value of, and update as necessary. Whilst we are working from home it is also vital to keep communication lines open in as many ways as possible. Frequent ‘huddles’ are advised, as often as daily, to keep the sense of purpose and momentum high across the team and to give any important updates on progress and review. Depending on the stage of the process, these meetings are likely to vary in frequency, length, and content. It is however important to set an agenda to cover the key points that the team should be aware of and focus on to continue effective working, which should include review of the project management tool on a weekly basis.

A vital element of the local plan process is to rigorously question each component of work to ensure both efficiency and due diligence in delivering effectively. Questions you should be asking include assessing the need for it to be undertaken, which could refer back to producing a focused and proportionate evidence base. Is the information sought already available or are there ways to approach the task in an innovative way to reduce the time and resource required? Refer to the project plan and challenge the timescales – when is work needed and who is best placed to produce it?

Have a clear vision of how the likely outcomes of the work will be used in terms of informing the drafting of the local plan as this will also help prioritise and focus on the end objectives. As always, prioritisation is key to how we work, using all the tools and resources we have, to make effective decisions and as far as possible simplify the approach taken to progressing the local plan.

The local plan is the shop window for local councils, a document that publicly and democratically announces a place is open for business. Never before has this piece of work been more important.

Thinking about your organisation?