IPe Briefing: Statements of Common Ground (SCGs)

IPe Briefing: Statements of Common Ground (SCGs)

Tuesday 2nd April 2019

Authorities' statements of common ground will need to show how strategic issues are being tackled, writes IPe's Derek Stebbing.

Key points

  • The 2018 National Planning Policy Framework introduced the requirement for statements of common ground (SCGs) to be prepared as part of local plans, spatial development strategies and marine plans.
  • An SCG is needed as part of the evidence to demonstrate that an authority has complied with the duty to co-operate.
  • The SCG is required to show the capacity within the strategic policy-making authority areas to meet identified development needs and the extent of any unmet needs. Disagreements need to be recorded.

Q What are statements of common ground (SCGs) and who would write them?
A Local planning authorities and county councils (in two-tier areas) are required to co-operate with each other, and other prescribed bodies, on strategic matters that cross administrative boundaries. SCGs were introduced in the 2018 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) revisions to demonstrate that this joint working is effective and ongoing. An SCG is intended to document the strategic matters on which collaboration is taking place and the progress being achieved to address them, and provide a written record of how the duty to co-operate is working.

The designated lead authority is required to take responsibility for drawing up the SCG. It is to be drafted in collaboration with all parties involved, who are also required to be signatories. Any areas of disagreement will have to be recorded. In the areas where there are joint plans, the SCG is to be jointly prepared by the authorities involved. In the case of spatial development strategies prepared by mayors and combined authorities, the same principles apply.

Q What issues would the SCGs need to cover?
A The starting point will be for plan-making authorities to collaborate to identify the relevant strategic matters to be addressed. The NPPF says they should also engage with local communities and relevant bodies including local enterprise partnerships, nature partnerships, the government's Marine Management Organisation, county councils, infrastructure providers, elected mayors and combined authorities.

The area covered by an SCG will depend on the strategic matters being planned with neighbouring authorities and the most appropriate functional geographical area to develop strategic policies to address these matters. For example, housing market or travel-to-work areas may be a more appropriate basis on which to plan than individual local planning authority, county or combined authority areas. Some authorities will need to be involved in the preparation of more than one SCG to address different cross-boundary matters.

Q How long would they need to be and how much detail should they include?
A There is no prescribed length, but initial examples prepared under the Local Government Association Planning Advisory Service's (PAS's) pilot programme suggested that they could be prepared with sufficient detail on all relevant strategic matters in around ten to 20 pages. The draft SCG for Oxfordshire is a good example .

Q Are SCGs likely to be subject to scrutiny in public examinations?
A Yes, the duty to co-operate (section 33A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004) is already subject to scrutiny at every examination, and an inspector must be satisfied that the duty has been complied with before a plan is tested for soundness. The SCG is required to demonstrate that authorities have engaged constructively and on an ongoing basis on strategic cross-boundary matters in the preparation of their plans.

Q How should plan-makers ensure that SCGs are robust and that they will result in a sound plan?
A The use of an independent facilitator provides a good basis for testing the robustness of a draft SCG and that all relevant strategic matters are being covered. It provides an opportunity to critically test how effectively the duty to co-operate has been working and where there may be some shortcomings.

Q Is the government expected to issue further guidance on SCGs' role in the plan-making process?
A The government has not indicated any intention to issue further guidance on SCGs which is set out in the latest Planning Practice Guidance issued in March. However, PAS has recently published a draft SCG advice note and template. Planning authorities are still in the initial phase of implementing this requirement and it seems reasonable to envisage that emerging best practice could lead to revisions to national Planning Practice Guidance as the first SCGs are submitted for examination alongside plans.

This article was published in Planning magazine on 22 March 2019.