The process of preparing development plans will be discussed in past tense, as, although some of these methods are still very much in force, new frameworks are being introduced to alleviate some of these stages. However, it is necessary to focus on these processes as they are an integral part of the evolution of current development plans. In many cases, the old local and structure plans are incorporated into the planning system as saved plans (Derbyshire County Council website, 2009).
The first stage involved the preparation of one or more issues documents, which usually outlined what the local authority considered were the main issues that the new plan should deal with, such as housing and the transportation network (Reeves & Burley, 2002). Before this could be undertaken, the authority must have internally discussed the main issues and decided which of the existing plans could be utilised (e.g. mineral plans, waste plans, district plans). Districts with outdated plans in place required much research and surveying (especially of housing, population, the economy, transport, recreation waste etc) before a draft plan could be developed.
The next step was to produce a pre-deposit consultation draft, which was the first draft of the new plan that the public would be able to see and comment on. This may have been advertised in the form of newspapers, leaflets and focus groups, for example. Occasionally there would be exhibitions, which included summaries of the draft plan, and were staffed by planners. This stage in the preparation was not always deemed essential, but, following the 1999 Regulations, an important part of the process (however authorities were no longer required to consult a specific list of parties).
Comprehensive consultation drafts were discouraged as they lengthened the primary stages of the preparation. The pre-deposit stage was deemed necessary to reduce administration costs that would occur if only the deposit stage was in place. Not only was this stage for the public to engage, but it was also the point in the process where relevant bodies, such as the Highways Agency and/or The Environment Agency were consulted. It may also have been a part of the process whereby disadvantaged persons, such as ethnic minorities were drawn in to be involved.
Preparation then moved on to the deposit drafts, which were plans that were advertised and invited for criticism by a wider audience. There were usually two of these drafts; the first was the one that got scrutinised and recommendations. This was not before the pre-deposit draft was internally examined, assessed and amended. Unlike the pre-deposit stage there were strict procedures and requirements in force, which the authority had to put on display, such as where copies of the plan had been deposited and where objections had to be sent. Objections had to be made following a set procedure i.e. they had to be in writing, sent to the correct address and had to arrive within the six week time allocation. Objectors that did not follow this procedure would not have the privilege of being heard at the public inquiry. Whilst there were also objectors at this stage, there were also supporters, who had the opportunity to fill in a supporting form; however they were not allowed to be heard at the public inquiry. There was also room for negotiation following the 1999 Regulations (Cullingworth & Nadin, 2006), whereby authorities could negotiate with the objectors, which could reduce the number of objections at the public inquiry.
The second draft was the revised plan following adjustments made after wider criticism and after negotiations with objectors. Not all bodies would issue a second draft, especially before 1999, but it could greatly improve the content of the development plan. Amended policies must have been clearly highlighted by using a different typeface. If a large number of objections were made then this would critically slow the adoption of plans. Before the introduction of the 1999 Development Plan Regulations the public were allocated six weeks to make objections before the public inquiry and the authority was not given a second chance. The two stage deposit was a step in the right direction towards an improvement in efficiency.
The next step was the Public Inquiry stage whereby an Inspector or panel (appointed by the first Secretary of State – Communities and Local Government), together with a Programme Officer, hosted a meeting to resolve any outstanding objections to the First or Second Deposit Plans. Occasionally a pre-inquiry meeting would occur so that all relevant parties were familiar with the itinerary. In some cases Planning Aid would be brought in, which provided planning advice, information, capacity building and mediation to individuals or community groups who requested it (Reeves and Burley, 2002). However, during the inquiry it would be assumed that all attending would be familiar with each and every plan and objection. Following the Inquiry there would be an Inspector’s report, which could take months to construct. This report contained all the recommendations and had to be made visible to the public within eight weeks.
Once the local authority had received the Inspector's report, it would have to decide whether to modify the deposit plan in the light of the Inspector's recommendations. Modifications were required before the plan could be adopted. Planning authorities had to convey a list of modifications and reasons for making them, which was then published in the local newspaper for two weeks. The public and other parties had the right to object (or support) the new policies, within a six week period. The authority could then decide whether or not to hold another inquiry or decide not to change the plan anymore. Once the local authority was satisfied with the deposit plan it could be adopted (but it was a requirement to advertise it in papers and notify all who required notification regarding its adoption). Once adopted it became part of the statutory development plan for the area.
Following the adoption of the development plan, the authority would need to monitor the plan policies. However this was usually not undertaken as it was difficult to know which policies should be monitored. Occasionally some efficient authorities would use statistical packages to monitor the effectiveness of policies. Reviewing of development plans was also lacking as it only needed to be carried out every five years.