South Yorkshire Climate Alliance

Briefing note

The Sheffield Plan - what it is, and why it matters

These notes are from a briefing given by Gordon Dabinett to South Yorkshire Climate Alliance in October 2022.

What is a Local Plan?

Sheffield City Council as the local planning authority is legally obliged to produce a development plan for the whole of the city EXCEPT for the area of the administrative city that lies in the Peak District National Park, where the National Park is the local planning authority.

Currently the City is using a plan and policies adopted in 1998 and 2004 – a new plan has been long overdue.

Elsewhere in South Yorkshire the picture is varied:

– Doncaster has the most recent Local Plan, adopted in September 2021;

– Barnsley’s Plan was adopted in January 2019;

– Rotherham, like Sheffield, is preparing a new plan, its existing strategy was adopted in 2014.

National policy and guidance sets out what a Local Plan should contain and address. The Local Plan has to set out policies that will determine the pattern of new development (where), the scale of new development (how much) and the quality of development over a twenty year period.

The Plan must make sufficient provision for housing, employment, retail, leisure and infrastructure and community facilities (in practice much of the political and media attention has focussed on housing provision).

The Plan has to provide policies on the conservation and enhancement of the natural, built and historic environments.

Policies should be designed to contribute to the mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

The Sheffield Plan has a time horizon of 2039, in the context of an expected growth in the population, households and employment over the twenty years. Population growth is mainly in the elderly and young cohorts, proportional growth in households is higher than population increases. Approximately the population will grow by some 62,000, with in the order of 2,000 new homes and 2,000 jobs required annually.


Progress of the Sheffield Plan

To date, the Council has published an ‘Issues and Options’ paper which went out for public consultation between September and October 2020. In February 2022 the Council agreed to prioritise brownfield sites in existing urban areas; previously undeveloped land within urban areas; and sustainably located brownfield sites in the Green Belt.

CURRENTLY the City Council is in the final stages of preparing draft policies for the ‘Publication Draft Plan’. These will be considered by Council Committees on 3 November and 15 November and full Council on 14 December. If approved, the Draft Plan will go to PUBLIC CONSULTATION between 09 JANUARY and 20 FEBRUARY 2023.

The statutory process then requires final proposals to undergo an ‘Examination’, a process overseen and decided upon by a Secretary of State appointed independent Planning Inspector. The examination assesses whether the plan has been prepared in accordance with legal and procedural requirements and if it is ‘sound’ against four tests in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It must be emphasised that the Local Plan has to take account of and align with the NPPF which sets out Central Government’s overall planning policies for England. The Inspector will consider representations by interested parties, and at the end the Inspector will report recommending if the Plan can be adopted or modified. This Examination is due to happen between April 2023 and September 2024, with final adoption of The Sheffield Plan intended in DECEMBER 2024.


What might the Plan propose?

The Options Paper outlined some very general principles:

  • An environmentally sustainable city;
  • A commitment to net zero carbon by 2030;
  • Locate new development to reduce the need for travel, by supporting a compact city, higher densities, mixed developments;
  • Set specific standards for generating renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions;
  • A city resilient to climate change;
  • Adopt mitigation measures to address flooding including the location of new development;
  • Protect the countryside and green belt.

Evidence presented in a recent report on 24 Local Plans by the CPRE suggests there can be a gap between these general aims and their realisation. The Draft Plan might be scrutinised by examining if it:

  • tackles the inherent tensions between economic growth, car dependence and emissions. The imperative of economic development is unsurprisingly common to policies across South Yorkshire;
  • Itemises and quantifies how the Plan and policies will achieve net zero;
  • contains a requirement for all new developments to demonstrate measurable reductions in net carbon over the life of the development;
  • sets out ambitious and innovative design codes for zero net carbon, biodiversity and nature friendly schemes.

The Sheffield Plan is a significant document and process that should be given considered and full scrutiny. It is a strategic statement for the whole city and provides an almost unique opportunity to consider what sort of future city we wish to live in. It is embedded in democratic and participatory processes, and although these might not be perfect, they do place a duty on citizens to make a contribution. The Plan, when adopted is Statutory and will therefore be a fundamental construct in future urban planning practices.

However, it is fair to acknowledge there are also limitations and contexts that should be borne in mind:

The overriding role of national planning policies cannot be ignored. Currently there is uncertainty but also demands to influence national government policies as planning is subjected to criticism and changes (see NPPF, Levelling Up Agenda, Investment Zones etc);

Related policies fields will have greater potential impacts on achieving net zero carbon, in particular for energy and transport. The Plan does not have direct control over investment decisions.

It does not directly affect existing development and current behaviours, such as retro-fitting insulation. It will act at the ‘margins’.

The city does not exist in isolation, as vividly illustrated through travel-to-work patterns and the major development at Waverley off the Park Way, and any scrutiny should also be undertaken at the wider South Yorkshire scale. There might be a case for the SY Mayor to consider drawing up a spatial strategy (non-statutory) for which he has powers.

Finally, at best the Plan will not be adopted until 2024. Until then the City Council’s consideration of planning applications is a key arena for further scrutiny. Current legislation empowers local authorities to set standards for renewables and low carbon energy and energy efficiency as long as they are consistent with national policy – however at present there is some uncertainty in practice as to the position of the current government.

Gordon Dabinett



The consultation for the draft Sheffield Plan is now open. At the link below you can find the draft plan and supporting documents, submit a response, and see details of the drop-in events being run by the council.

Join us at our next meeting on 24th January when we’ll be looking at the plan in detail, and how to respond.