A survey of eight unitary development plans (UDPs) in metropolitan district authorities outside London is reviewed. The survey sought to assess the policy content of each UDP for its contribution towards the goal of sustainable development. Within the present framework of local–national relations, several areas were identified in which current UDP policies can be seen to be promoting sustainable development. Similarly, other areas of the sustainable development agenda can be seen to be outside the present content of UDPs. To carry out this exercise, a methodology to analyse development plans on their sustainability content was developed. For this purpose, the work of the Local Government Management Board was used to produce a set of ‘policy directions towards sustainability’, against which policies in development plans could be critically assessed.