The Government has threatened to directly intervene in councils who have failed to establish a local housing plan – including Northumberland.
In a speech in Bristol today, Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said ‘most’ councils were ‘doing very well’ but said 15 local authorities that have not managed to get a local plan adopted were ‘showing particular cause for concern’.
Mr Javid said that the local authorities in question have now been served notice that the Government has begun the formal process of intervention and they have until the end of January 2018 to put forward ‘any exceptional circumstances’ to justify their failure in producing a plan.
These responses will be taken into account before decisions on intervention are taken.
He added that failure to make sufficient progress ‘will no longer be tolerated’, in an attempt to fix the ‘broken housing market’.
The 15 authorities are Northumberland, Basildon, Brentwood, Bolsover, Calderdale, Castle Point, Eastleigh, Liverpool, Mansfield, North East Derbyshire, Runnymede, St Albans, Thanet, Wirral and York.
Northumberland’s Local Plan, a key document which details where development should take place, is not likely to be adopted until 2020. In the summer, the county council’s new Conservative administration withdrew the Local Plan Core Strategy – put together by the council’s Labour group before losing the county election in May – to review a number of aspects of the document, primarily due to concerns that numbers for the proposed level of new housing were too high.
In response to Mr Javid’s comments, the county’s Conservative group leader Coun Peter Jackson said that the council will work proactively on the local plan and ‘pull out all of the stops to ensure a sound process which will be delivered as quickly as possible’.
Mr Javid said: “I am particularly concerned about the 15 local planning authorities that have recently either failed the duty to cooperate or failed to meet the deadlines set out in their Local Development Schemes, the public timetable that all local planning authorities are required to put in place.
“I am therefore writing today to the 15 local planning authorities. These letters will start the formal process of intervention we set out in the Housing White Paper. We set out that we will prioritise intervention where the least progress in plan-making has been made; policies in plans had not been kept up to date; there was higher housing pressure; and intervention would have the greatest impact in accelerating local plan production.
“We also made clear that decisions on intervention will also be informed by the wider planning context in each area (specifically, the extent to which authorities are working cooperatively to put strategic plans in place, and the potential impact that not having a plan has on neighbourhood planning activity).
“I am writing today to give the local authorities the opportunity to put forward any exceptional circumstances, by January 31, 2018, which, in their view, justify their failure to produce a local plan under the 2004 Act regime.
“I will take responses received into account before any final decisions on intervention are taken.
“The remaining authorities who are not making progress on their plan-making and fail to publish a plan for consultation, submit a plan to examination or to keep policies in plans up to date are on notice that consistent failure to make sufficient progress will no longer be tolerated.
“My department will begin formally considering the case for intervention as deadlines are missed.”
In response, Coun Jackson, said: “We note the Secretary of State’s comments today and await further detail on the process, on which we will work positively with Government throughout.
“In the meantime we remain totally committed to providing a sustainable and prosperous future for our county as we work proactively on the local plan.
“One of our key pledges when coming into office was to immediately revisit the Core Strategy in the light of serious public concern about it.
“We had no confidence that it would have been approved by the Secretary of State on the basis of the previous administration’s figures on projected housing need.
“It was evident from information available to us on more recent population and economic trends that it is possible to secure the same levels of economic and employment growth with less houses than were being proposed in the now withdrawn Core Strategy.
“Our new local plan will include far more detailed planning policies than would have been provided in the now-withdrawn Core Strategy, and will allow for a consistent set of planning policies right across Northumberland. It will ensure that we only use the land we need and preserve the unique character of Northumberland and it will afford protection of the Green Belt.
“A significant amount of work on the new Local Plan has already been undertaken and additional capacity has been provided in the Planning team to ensure that preparation of the plan happens at pace.
“We have also changed the plan-making process by starting work on the preparation of a full local plan. This new consolidated method will be completed along a fairly similar timeline to the previous two-stage version of the plan.
“A report has already been published detailing our forthcoming timeline and we expect this to be agreed by cabinet next week.
“The draft plan will be published in the summer of 2018, with the timing of the full Local Plan to be submitted to Government for examination by Summer 2019 and, following examination, will be adopted by Summer 2020, with periods of public consultation throughout the process. This follows a very similar timetable to that being proposed by Durham County Council for the preparation of their new local plan.
“Be in no doubt that the new administration at Northumberland County Council is determined to pull out all of the stops to ensure a sound process which will be delivered as quickly as possible. I look forward to working positively with Government to that end.”
Coun Scott Dickinson, chairman of Northumberland Labour Group, said: “We voted against the removal of the plan, listing a whole range of key issues and these have even been supported by the Secretary of State who has now served notice on Northumberland County Council.
“It’s a complete mess, the Tories were warned of a free for all, of communities being taken advantage of and developers having no guidance to work from. The Tories in Northumberland have managed to create a massive embarrassing error.
“Northumberland communities will take the brunt of the clear lack of understanding that exists about running a council.
“I am sure Northumberland residents are rightly concerned and we know the fix to this isn’t likely until 2020. By then Northumberland could just be a concrete county.”
New figures out today show the number of new homes in England has risen by 15 per cent over the past year, with more than 1.1million homes delivered since 2010.
Mr Javid said: “Steps have been made in the right direction - but I want to see a giant leap, and hundreds of thousands more homes. We owe it to our future generations to fix this broken housing market and help them find a home of their own.
“While some councils are recognising their responsibilities and stepping up to meet the housing challenge, too many are still not acting. That’s why I’m stepping in now to make sure they act.”