Matthew Bates, Local Plan Lead for the SDNPA

November 2, 2017

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Answering this month is: Matthew Bates, Local Plan Lead for the SDNPA

Who is writing the Local Plan?

I’m part of the planning policy team, and we play a leading role in coordinating and drafting the Local Plan alongside others throughout the organisation. Members of the National Park Authority have also contributed greatly, as have the numerous stakeholders (including the district, borough, city and county councils that make up the National Park) and members of the public through various stages of consultation on the Plan. Our policies should broadly follow national planning guidance, except where there is strong local evidence that we need to take a different approach.

What is planning policy?

We do the policy work which enables our colleagues in Development Management, the SDNPA Members and planners in other local authorities acting on our behalf under agency agreements, to make recommendations and decisions on planning applications. The main focus of this work at the moment is producing a Local Plan.

As well as the Local Plan we are supporting the production of more than 50 neighbourhood plans and many more village design statements. We provide advice on some planning applications and proposals. We work with colleagues to bring forward supplementary planning documents to provide further detail on Local Plan policies – for example affordable housing or design.

We spend a lot of time working with partner organisations, in particular local authorities, to promote the statutory purposes and duty of the National Park. This might include addressing issues that have impacts across administrative boundaries such as protecting large sites designated for wildlife importance; conserving important views and landscapes; or delivery of appropriate new infrastructure such as affordable housing.

Finally, we monitor the impact of our policies and produce an annual report.

Why did you become a planner?

I have always enjoyed learning about the world around us, whether it be naturally formed landscapes, or settlements and buildings created by human society and from a young age enjoyed walking countryside footpaths and trails. So it was natural that I should study first geography and then town planning at university.

An enjoyable aspect of part of being part of the Local Plan is that I get to work on a diverse range of planning issues at different scales, from individual sites to strategic matters spanning a whole sub-region, and with all the different types of people that involves. Planners are in demand and I’d recommend this as a career for anyone with a keen interest in how communities interact with both their environment and each other.

What is the South Downs Local Plan?

When it’s adopted, the South Downs Local Plan will contain the planning policies used to shape development in the South Downs National Park. It will be used by those proposing development in the National Park and by planners and elected Members to decide where new development goes, and whether planning permission should be permitted. It will also provide the starting point for neighbourhood plans, which set out planning policies for parishes and towns.

Is it too late for me to get involved in the South Downs Local Plan?

We really encourage a range of individuals and organisations to get involved in the Local Plan. Whilst the National Park Authority’s Local Plan is largely written, there is still one opportunity to suggest changes to it. You can read the current version of the Local Plan and supporting evidence at This page also provides details of how to comment (e.g. online, or by email or letter). However, time is running out to have your say – you must comment by midnight on the evening of 21 November 2017. You can also speak to the Planning Policy team directly by calling 01730 814810 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm only) and asking for Local Plan duty officer or emailing for further information on the Local Plan consultation.

Do you decide where housing should be allocated? How do you do it?

The whole process is landscape-led. We started by looking at every settlement in the National Park, working out where housing is most needed, whether the landscape is able to accommodate growth, and where it would be sustainable in a countryside context to place new homes. We’re placing a particular emphasis on local housing needs and taking into account existing facilities such as schools, transport connections and shops among other things.

We have generally tried to be as responsive as possible to locally provided feedback (for example from parish councils and Neighbourhood Plans), whilst also having regard to the wider objectives of the National Park, and indeed national policy and guidance on how to plan for housing. We’ve been led by research and evidence, which includes consulting with communities to understand local needs, and barriers to achieving these. We have then applied professional judgement having regard to the vision in the Partnership Management Plan to make our recommendations. An independent Planning Inspector will assess whether we’ve achieved this.