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The Planning System

The purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development. Planning policy is a continuous process of looking forward and deciding on a course of action to improve people's quality of life and the appearance of our environment in a sustainable way. It involves protecting the best, improving the worst, and aiming positively to ensure a better quality of life for everyone, now and for future generations.

Planning law requires that decisions on planning applications are made in accordance with the adopted Development Plan (including Local and Neighbourhood Plans) unless other material considerations, relating to land use development (such as the National Planning Policy Framework), indicate otherwise. The Regional Strategy for the North West of England was revoked on 20 May 2013, and no longer forms part of the Development Plan for St Helens.

There are three main levels of the planning system:

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the Government’s planning policies on economic, social and environmental issues and how these are expected to be applied. At the heart of the NPPF is the presumption in favour of sustainable development, which applies to both plan-making and decision-taking, and makes clear that development which is sustainable can be approved without delay. 

Guidance on the application of the NPPF is provided by the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) - a web-based resource which brings together planning guidance on various topics into one place.


Each local planning authority is preparing a Local Plan. This is a collection of documents that set out how the local area may change over the next few years and promote a proactive, positive approach to managing development.

Local Plans focus on land use development and protection, set within the context of wider social, economic and environmental trends and considerations. Reflecting the National Planning Policy Framework, Local Plans make strategic provision for the long-term use of land and buildings, providing a framework for local decision making and the reconciliation of competing development and conservation interests.

They aim to ensure that land use changes proceed coherently, efficiently, and with maximum community benefit. Local Plans indicate clearly how local residents, landowners, and other interested parties might be affected by land use change. They are subject to regular periods of intensive public consultation, involvement and negotiation.

In the borough of St Helens, the St Helens Core Strategy is the principal Local Plan. It contains strategic policies, provides an overall plan of where development should be located and how we meet the needs of the borough. Local Plans for specific areas of change or conservation are known as Area Action Plans (AAPs).

In St Helens, the Local Plan consists of the following documents:

In addition there are series of adopted Supplementary Planning Documents and Development Briefs. These provide additional guidance on the interpretation and application of policies contained in the adopted Plans and are capable of being material considerations in planning decisions. A range of SPDs have already been adopted. 

The new Local Plan for St Helens will replace all existing Local Plans once it is adopted.

The Localism Act 2011 and the Neighbourhood Planning Regulations 2012 allow for the creation of Neighbourhood Plans. Along with Neighbourhood Development Orders, they allow local communities to have more say in planning in their area. This is because where a Neighbourhood Plan has been adopted for a particular area within the Borough, it will form part of the Development Plan for that neighbourhood and help determine planning applications. Planning applications have to be in accordance with the Development Plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise. There is more information in our Neighbourhood Planning section.