England’s chief planner will visit three of the 15 councils threatened with intervention for not compiling a local plan in order to assess whether the government should take over the process.

Late on Friday 23 March, the government published the letters the housing secretary has sent to the 15 councils that don’t yet have a local plan.

In November 2017, the government revealed that it was considering intervening where councils had not produced one. Councils had until 31 January 2018 to submit an explanation as to why one had not been published, and to provide exceptional circumstances for why the government should not step in.

Javid said: “Whilst most councils rightly recognise their responsibilities and most have worked hard to meet the housing challenge, some have failed.

“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.”

Letters to Castle Point Borough Council, Wirral Council, and Thanet District Council state that, “in terms of our intervention criteria”, each council has “failed to make progress on plan-making, the policies for the area are therefore not up to date”.

Javid dismissed the exceptional circumstances cited by Castle Point as not being exceptional. The council said it is constrained by the green belt, the previous plan should not have been found unsound and that the council is pursuing a joint plan in South Essex. The housing secretary disagreed, saying that green belt challenges are not unique to the Castle Point area and agreed with the inspector’s reasons for finding the previous plan unsound.

Wirral Council said it is enabling development, that plan-making has been delayed by the abolition of regional spatial strategies and the removal of funding from the government, and that it will form part of the single spatial plan for Liverpool City Region. Javid noted that other councils that are members of combined authorities are producing local plans while all areas were affected by changes to regional planning.

Thanet cited its exceptional circumstances as being the local debate over the future of Manston Airport and the need to undertake more work to identify alternative sites following the failure of its previous plan. The housing secretary said other authorities have dealt with uncertainty about the future of large sites, deeming the circumstances as not exceptional.

The intervention process will continue for each of these councils. Chief planner Steve Quartermain and a “team of experts” will be sent to assess whether the government needs to take over the process of producing a local plan from the councils.

Chief Planner, Steve Quartermain

Northumberland County Council has been instructed to revise its local plan timetable, making it clearer, and to bring forward its production of its plan.

St Albans City and District Council, Brentwood Borough Council, Basildon Borough Council, Bolsover District Council, Calderdale Borough Council, Eastleigh Borough Council, and Mansfield Borough Council have committed themselves to publishing a draft plan before the end of September 2018. Javid said he will monitor their progress; any further “significant” delay to the timetable will see him reconsider intervention.

Liverpool City Council, Runnymede Borough Council, North East Derbyshire District Council, and York City Council have made progress and published their plans.

In case Quartermain reports back to say further intervention is required at Castle Point, Wirral, and Thanet councils, a procurement process is under way to secure planning consultants and specialists who will undertake the work on plan production.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) added that it will contact the county councils and combined authorities in the areas concerned about the possibility of inviting those authorities to write plans.

The 15 letters to councils can be found here on the MHCLG website.

Source: Laura Edgar, The Planner [online], 26 March 2018

Local Comment:  This article states that a procurement process has already started to appoint planning consultants and specialists to undertake local plan production.  It is still unclear whether the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority will accept the job of preparing Wirral’s Local Plan.  If it refuses to then it appears that private consultants will do the work instead. – Philip Barton