The government keep pushing Councils to adopt local plans faster. The Local Plans Expert Group (LPEG) was set up in September 2015 and a looming 2017 deadline has been set. If a council does not produce a local plan by 2017 the government will seemingly take over the process.
Can DCLG intervention expedite local plan process:
But if the Maldon Local Plan is anything to go by, even when DCLG intervenes, the process continues to be lengthy, making one wonder quite how DCLG will ensure all post-NPPF Local Plans will be produced in a timely manner.
A recap on Maldon’s Local Plan status:
In May 2015, Maldon District Council’s Local Plan was found unsound by the Planning Inspectorate, as it failed to meet the requirements for Travellers (policy H6). The Inspector also inferred concerns relating to unsound housing policies (which the Inspector had been warning about since June 2014).
On 8th June 2015, Greg Clark issued a statement calling in Maldon’s emerging Local Plan to “test whether the planning inspector has taken a proportionate and balanced view on the local plan as a whole in the light of national planning policy”.
There was relative silence until the other week when, on 6th March 2016, Greg Clark wrote to Maldon district council to confirm that he did not find in favour of the Inspector. Whilst it is agreed that a failure to meet the requirements of Policy H6 is not consistent with national policy, it is not agreed that as a result the whole plan is unsound as: “It was not proportionate… as he [the Inspector] had not examined the whole plan.”
Whilst this outcome is positive for Maldon who, like many other councils, have worked tirelessly to produce a local plan for submission, it has taken 9 months for the Secretary of State (SoS) to reach this conclusion and every month that ticks by makes the evidence base for the emerging local plan less reliable.
How reliable is the evidence base?
The NPPF is clear that an evidence base should be up-to-date, but the supporting documents for the Maldon Local Plan were submitted in April 2014. At best the evidence will be 2 years out of date, but within that evidence base were documents published as early as 2007.
To compound matters, even if the DCLG find the housing policies sound, there is still a requirement to hold hearing sessions on all other matters in the local plan, including employment and infrastructure provision. A sound local plan before 2017 looks more or less impossible.
Where does this leave Maldon?
In his letter the SoS acknowledged that Maldon’s plan will be subject to further assessments and will appoint a new Inspector to continue the examination.
In the interim, the SoS advises Maldon that the NPPF is clear on the weight decision makers may give to policies in plans that have yet to complete examination. He also flagged that when assessing their 5 year housing land supply, information provided in the latest full assessment of housing needs should be considered and sees “no evidence that the Council has not undertaken a comprehensive and objective assessment of the need for housing.”
However, as the plan process continues Maldon is potentially still vulnerable to planning by appeal as the latest major appeal decision, determined last month for 115 homes, held that Maldon’s emerging local plan carried no weight and the Council could not demonstrate a 5 year housing supply.
Should you wish to discuss how these delays affect your land or developments then contact our Chelmsford office via firstname.lastname@example.org or on 01245 201226.