I don’t think St Albans could ever be accused of haste.
A meeting of the district’s planning policy committee debated the possibility of accelerating the Local Plan programme so it is completed within six months after the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is implemented.
If that is achieved, St Albans district would only need to accommodate its own housing calculation of 700 homes yearly rather than 900, which is a number forced on SADC by central Government.
The current schedule sees the Local Plan submitted a couple of months after the six month deadline, in March 2019.
However, SADC’s head of planning, Tracy Harvey, said that tactic could risk the document being rejected by planning inspectors again.
She said rushing would mean abandoning crucial work essential for the soundness of the plan and weakens the relationship with other councils – who may object on duty to cooperate grounds.
The former Strategic Local Plan was dismissed at High Court because SADC did not cooperate fully with neighbouring councils, who argued SADC’s housing projections were too low.
Portfolio holder for planning, Cllr Mary Maynard, said: “I spoke with one of the [neighbouring council] portfolio holders today, I won’t say which one, and I said ‘How would you feel if we escalated our plan and come in with lower numbers?’ and there was a very long silence, which I bit my tongue so I didn’t interrupt, and the response came back, ‘You’re at it again aren’t you?’”
She added: “In the best possible world we would like to bring it forward. We are not in the best possible world, we are in the real world.”
Cllr Iain Grant added: “If we fail twice at examination on duty to cooperate it would take a very tolerant Government to say have a third go and if we lose control locally that would be a real shame.”
Cllr Jock Wright asked if a lower figure was even preferable: “Perhaps this is a devil’s advocate view, that we are talking about reducing the number of houses we need to build being a good thing, but what if those homes were social rented houses that we lost. There are people in this district who can’t afford to get a house.”
Cllr Maynard agreed to monitor officers’ progress and revisit the issue in the future.