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Communities Secretary issues directions to two councils over Local Plan failure

The Secretary of State for Communities, James Brokenshire, has issued directions to two local authorities, Wirral and Thanet Councils, on preparations for their Local Plans.

In both cases the minister said the requirements of s.27(1) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 had been met for intervention in view of the councils' failure to get a Local Plan in place.

The two local authorities are now required (within ten weeks of the letter for Wirral and four weeks for Thanet) to designate a lead councillor and lead official to be responsible for progressing preparation of the Local Plan.

Wirral has also been directed to publish an action plan, which must be verified by independent planning experts, and report monthly to the Ministry on progress.

In his letter to the Leader of Wirral, the Communities Secretary wrote: “I have noted…. that Wirral is not an area of higher housing pressure, and therefore this criterion for prioritising intervention is not met. However, notwithstanding this, I consider that it would be appropriate to intervene because Wirral Council’s performance in respect of the other criteria is lamentable.

“For example Wirral’s last Local Plan was adopted in February 2000, covering a period up to March 2001, with the authority reliant on saved policies from the 2000 Local Plan to determine local planning applications.”

The minister added that in comparison with the other 14 authorities written to by his predecessor as Secretary of State in November 2017 and warned of potential intervention, Wirral had made the least progress. Of those authorities still to submit their Local Plan for examination, Wirral was timetabled to submit significantly later than the other authorities.

Brokenshire said there was a “compelling” case to intervene to prepare the Wirral Local Plan, but in recognition that the publication of the revised National Planning Policy Framework and related planning reforms would inform the preparation of its Local Plan, he had decided not to prepare the Wirral Local Plan at this time.

“I am offering you a final opportunity to demonstrate a clear path towards the delivery of your Local Plan,” he said. “Should a significant delay occur against the milestones set out in your March 2018 Local Development Scheme, should you fail to comply with the directions in this letter without a good reason or should your draft Local Plan fail at examination I am minded to take over the preparation of the Wirral Local Plan.”

In his response to the Communities Secretary, Wirral's Leader Cllr Phil Davies said the council would comply with the directions issued and the timeframe.

However, he also said it was important to challenge the minister's view on the progress Wirral had made to date. Clrr Davies highlighted how:

  • The lead councillor and lead official were in place, "and leading the delivery of our action plan and timeline for implementation";
  • The council had appointed a leading QC in autumn 2018 to advise it on its work and to ensure it was fully compliant with all Local Plan legislation;
  • The council had completed initial public consultation on its Development Options Review consultation, which would allow for the land requirement to meet the needs of the entire borough;
  • Updated governance arrangements to aid speedy decision making had been agreed by Cabinet;
  • The council was in the final stages of recruiting the additional staff resources it needed to ensure it could deliver the Local Plan in as quick a timeframe as possible;
  • All technical studies which were required were either in process or being commissioned at present.

In his letter to the Leader of Thanet, the Communities Secretary noted that the council:

  • did not have an up-to-date Local Plan in place - its last Local Plan was adopted in 2006 and covered a period up to 2011;
  • had failed to meet the milestones in at least five Local Development Schemes since 2006;
  • had failed to plan for and deliver the homes people need in Thanet.

In addition to requiring designation of a lead councillor and lead official, he directed the council to, within eight weeks of the date of the letter, amend its Local Development Scheme (dated July 2018) to provide for the completion of a review of their Local Plan within six months of its adoption. “This course of action would ensure full and effective coverage of housing provision to give clarity to communities and developers about where homes should be built.”

The minister said that given the council’s recent actions and progress in meeting the requirements in the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012, he had decided not to prepare the Thanet Local Plan.

“However I will continue to closely monitor your Local Plan progress. Should a significant delay occur against the milestones set out in your July 2018 Local Development Scheme, should you fail to comply with the directions in this letter or should your draft Local Plan fail at examination, I will consider whether to take further action to ensure that a Local Plan is put in place,” Brokenshire wrote.

He added: “I am also, for the avoidance of doubt, now putting on public record my concerns about the low level of housing supply and delivery in Thanet. I expect planning decision-takers to have regard to these concerns as a material consideration when deciding local planning applications.”

Thanet has been approached for comment.

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