On 16 November 2017 I made a statement to the House with an update on local plan progress. Up to date plans, including local plans, are essential because they provide clarity to communities and developers about where homes should be built and where not, so that development is planned rather than the result of speculative applications. I made clear that a lack of progress will no longer be tolerated.
The Government have abolished top-down regional planning. But a locally-led planning system requires elected local representatives to take the lead, listen to local residents and business, and set out a clear framework to build new homes, support the local economy and protect the environment. Local plans also provide the framework within which groups can prepare neighbourhood plans to shape development at local level. Most councils have seized the opportunity that localism provides; a small minority have not.
I wrote to 15 local planning authorities to commence the formal process of intervention in areas that had either recently failed the duty to co-operate or failed to meet the deadline set out in their local development schemes, the public timetable that all local planning authorities are required to put in place.
Local authorities had until 31 January 2018 to put forward any exceptional circumstances, which, in their view, justifies their failure to produce a local plan under the local planning regime, as amended by the Localism Act 2011 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
I have now considered these responses. I am pleased that since my letter of 16 November, four local authorities, Liverpool, North East Derbyshire, Runnymede, and York have published their draft local/plans. In Basildon, Bolsover, Brentwood, Calderdale, Eastleigh, Mansfield and St Albans, while I have not been persuaded that there are exceptional circumstances to justify the failure to get a plan in place, I note some progress has been made to get their plans in place and at this time do not consider that intervention would have the greatest impact in accelerating their plan production. We will monitor these areas closely and any further significant delays in meeting their published timetables will inevitably give rise to considerable doubt over the ability of these authorities to make the necessary progress on their local plans. If there are further significant delays I will reconsider my decision not to intervene. In Northumberland I am asking the council to produce a clearer timetable and to accelerate plan production.
In three areas, Castle Point, Thanet and Wirral, I am now particularly concerned at the consistent failure and lack of progress to get a plan in place and have not been persuaded by the exceptional circumstances set out by the council or the proposals they have put forward to get a plan in place. We will therefore step up the intervention process in these three areas. I will be sending a team of planning experts, led by the Government’s Chief Planner, into these three areas to advise me on the next steps in my intervention.
I have a number of intervention options available to me which I will now actively examine. As it may prove necessary to take over plan production, subject to decisions taken after the expert advice I have commissioned, my Department has started the procurement process to secure planning consultants and specialists to undertake that work so it can commence as quickly as possible. My Department will also be speaking to the county councils and combined authority with a view to inviting those bodies to prepare the local plan in these three areas as well as exploring the possibility with neighbouring authorities of directing the preparation of joint plans.