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Local Authorities: Local Plans

Volume 752: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps local communities may take where a local authority has not prepared an up-to-date local plan; and what powers Ministers possess to encourage timely development of such plans.

My Lords, local plans enable communities to participate in planning and are the best way to create great places and meet their needs. This Government have therefore put local plans at the heart of the planning system and will consult on introducing a statutory requirement on authorities to put plans in place. However, in the absence of a local plan, communities can still exercise a range of community rights, establish neighbourhood plans, and make their views known on all development proposed locally.

My Lords, I am delighted with my noble friend’s Answer—it is not often one can say that—but can she confirm that the Government recognise the urgency of this issue if there is to be a consistent pattern of district plans nationwide by the end of 2014? What steps can Ministers take now in advance of any statutory powers to ensure that a district such as the Cotswolds, which I know very well, of which 70% is in areas of outstanding beauty, does not drag its feet any longer? Does my noble friend agree that the absence of an up-to-date district local plan can make development control arbitrary, unfair and open to large-scale speculative development, threatening communities such as Tetbury and Chipping Camden?

My noble friend makes some interesting points. My first response to him is to restate that local plans are indeed the best way for local people to decide how best to meet their own planning needs. The Government are supporting local authorities to publish and adopt their plans, because we recognise that this is a complex process. We have trebled the number of local authorities with adopted plans since 2010. However, as I have said, because this is so important, we will consult shortly on whether to make adopting a plan a statutory requirement and, if so, by when.

My Lords, we know that a number of local authorities are frustrated in facilitating the provision of housing, particularly affordable housing, where there is inadequate land supply within their boundaries and neighbouring authorities are ignoring their duty to co-operate on housing growth. The needs of Stevenage and Oxford are just two examples. As the Minister is aware, local authorities are required to provide evidence that they have complied with the duty in their development plans if the plans are not to be rejected by the examiner. How many local plans have, to date, been sent back for that reason? Does the Minister not agree that the duty to co-operate is proving to be a totally inadequate policy, given the scale of housing provision that our country needs?

I do not have the specific data to respond to that question from the noble Lord, but I can say to him that 75% of local authorities have now published a plan and 52% have adopted that plan. As I have already said, this is a massive increase on where we were in 2010, so there is real progress. However, because this is so important, we may, as I have said, introduce a statutory requirement to ensure that this happens across the board.

Is the Minister aware that there is a conflict between the minerals plans that are being developed and the local plans? It is rather important, particularly in view of the previous question, which emphasised the need for housing, that the mineralogical, underground plans should be finished in time for the local authority to know that it is not going to build on top of what could be a huge local asset for the community. Having attended the mineralogical group, I think there is some problem of liaison because these two items are covered by two different departments. Can the Government liaise between these departments in such a way that the necessary first one will actually be completed first?

In drafting and publishing local plans for consultation, local authorities are required to produce those plans in line with Government policy with the planning policy framework. Clearly, if there is any specific matter, there are ongoing discussions on that, but I am pretty sure that the way things are working is adequate.

I am talking about England. If I were to talk about Wales, where the Labour Party is in government, things are a lot worse over there.

My Lords, in the case of planning for Travellers, the DCLG issued a paper requiring local authorities to provide, by the end of March 2013, a five-year supply of specific deliverable sites against targets based on up-to-date assessments of local need. Will my noble friend say whether the Government will ask local authorities to submit returns by the end of March this year showing how they have satisfied that requirement? If the answer is that hardly any have done so, will they embody the requirement in statute? Is there ministerial power to enforce it?

As my noble friend knows, the policy is clear that, through local plans, local authorities should plan to meet housing needs and the needs of Gypsies and Travellers. This Government do not impose or monitor targets, but the Planning Inspectorate is applying the policy robustly in examining local plans.

My Lords, someone well beyond my pay grade has suggested that villages should be able to expand with small and proportionate developments in order to ensure that we build housing in rural areas and make villages vital communities again. Would the Government agree with that?

The most important thing as far as planning is concerned—which is why we are so committed to local plans—is that all housing decisions be locally driven.