Housing secretary Sajid Javid has revealed that three councils will now face central government intervention in their local plan-making process – Castle Point in Essex, Wirral on Merseyside and Thanet in Kent.

The three authorities were among 15 that in November were highlighted by Javid as taking too long to produce their local plans. They were threatened with interventon unless they provided a good explanation by 31 January saying why they had failed to make progress.

According to letters from Javid to each council leader published this afternoon by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the government will now consider inviting Essex County CouncilKent County Council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority to take over the plan-making processes of respectively Castle Point, Thanet and Wirral.

Each of the three letters say that Javid considered the councils’ representations submitted to the government before the end of January but he has “decided to continue with the intervention process”.

This would involve “a team of experts”, led by the chief planner Steve Quartermain, “providing me with further advice on next steps”. A press release published this evening by the MHCLG said that the team would “assess if the government needs to take over the process of producing the local plan”.

The letter to Castle Point says that government officials will “begin formal discussions on the options of inviting Essex County Council to prepare a local plan for Castle Point and with the neighbouring authorities on the possibility of directing an accelerated Joint Plan”. These discussions would inform Javid’s decision “whether to use my statutory powers and if so which ones”, the letter adds.

In the case of Thanet, the letter refers to inviting Kent County Council to prepare its local plan and for Wirral, to the Liverpool City Region.

Javid said in November that his “patience had run out” with the 15 councils, none of whom have drawn up a local plan since the current plan-making system was introduced in 2004. He wrote to each, threatening to use his powers allowing central government, higher-tier authorities or other agencies to step in and write plans for them.

The 12 other authorities, who have been told that they will not face further action at the present time, are: Northumberland, Basildon, Brentwood, Bolsover, Calderdale, Eastleigh, Liverpool, Mansfield, North East Derbyshire, Northumberland, Runnymede, St Albans, and York.

The intervention threat prompted various degrees of reaction from the authorities concerned, with several publishing draft plans for consultation since November. Last month, commentators told Planning that they only expected intervention at a “handful” of authorities.

However, the MHCLG statement says that the government has told Northumberland to produce their plan earlier and to make the timetable clearer.

Meanwhile, four authorities – Liverpool, North East Derbyshire, Runnymede, York – have all published draft plans since November, the statement adds.

The remaining seven councils “have all committed to publishing draft plans before the end of September 2018”, the MHCLG said, but the government “will monitor their progress”. It adds: “Any further significant delay to meet this timescale will lead to the case for intervention being reconsidered”.

The statement went on to say that the MHCLG is carrying out a procurement process “to secure planning consultants and specialists who will swiftly undertake the work on plan production should these councils not comply in the time required”.

Javid said: “I expect those authorities we identified in November to continue to make progress. I’m also stepping it up with three councils in particular, sending in a team of experts to make a direct assessment, ensuring they plan properly for the future or we’ll have to do it for them.”

The letters can be found here.

Source: John Geoghegan, Planning Resource, 23 March 2018