A UKIP-run council facing local plan intervention has told the government that it is not likely to produce a new draft of its development blueprint until December, after the current document was recently rejected by members.

Thanet Council in Kent is one of 15 authorities (including Wirral Council) that in November were threatened with intervention by communities secretary Sajid Javid unless they provided a good explanation of why they had failed to produce their local plan by 31 January.

But last month, members – against the advice of officers – voted against approving the latest draft of the plan so that it could be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate for examination.

A letter sent by the council to Javid on 31 January, which has just been published, says the setback means that it will be about eight to 10 months before it can publish a new draft of the plan.

The letter, from council chief executive Madeline Homer, says: “The council understands the importance of having an up-to-date local plan and has been attempting to make progress on its plan.

“During this process, one of the key issues has been the future of the airport site at Manston, and this has been the primary cause of delay to the progression of the draft local plan.”  The airport closed in May 2014 and, according to the letter, studies by the council had shown that continued use of the site as an airport was no longer viable “in the longer term”.  As a result, it was allocated for mixed-use development in the draft plan, including 2,500 homes and 85,000 square metres of business space.  However, this allocation of the airport site for housing and employment prompted Thanet’s opposition Conservative group, supported by rebel UKIP councillors, to object to the plan.  The letter said that “external planning advice” has indicated that the draft plan would have met “the tests of soundness”, adding: “Officers have done everything necessary to seek to ensure that a sound plan would be published.”

According to the letter, following the plan’s rejection, the council’s next steps to advance the draft plan would include: a review of the existing housing sites; a further call for sites; identifying sites to accommodate the 2,500 homes that will not now be built on the airport site, and reviews of its sustainability appraisal and habitat regulations assessment. 

“The expectation is that this process is likely to take 8-10 months,” it states.  “The council intends to be in a position to publish a pre-submission draft plan by December 2018 and subsequently to submit a draft plan for examination by April 2019.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesman told Planning that the department had written to the 15 planning authorities concerned, “including Thanet”, and that “we will consider next steps” now that responses had come back.

Source: John Geoghegan, Planning Resource, 6 February 2018

Local Comment:  We await with interest publication of the response Wirral Council has made to the Secretary of State. – Philip Barton