The biggest threat to local planning at the moment is the inability to plan locally. Either through plans being withdrawn, redone, or simply paused, seemingly indefinitely, waiting some clarity on policy from government. As stated many times on this blog the biggest problem with local plan making is the fact that so many local councilors dislike and see as politically toxic the whole process. To the extent that the NPPF threat of ‘build what you like where you like’ is becoming less and less of a threat when you don’t have a 5yhls. The backlog of housing sites is so great that local politicians are increasingly unprepared to allocate enough standard method sites in one go.
A prime example of this is Basildon, where last night by way of an emergency motion to a full council meeting the whole plan was withdrawn, two years into an EIP and at the point where final main modification were to be agreed paving the way to adoption. Compare to South Oxfordshire where potential withdrawl was flagged first at Cabinet, enabling the SoS is issue a holding direction.
No chance here, clearly Basildon had watched and learned. Since 2011 there is no longer a requirement to notify in advance the SoS of withdrawl and get permission. So expect now many more local plans to be put in a holding pattern, either by withdrawl or simply inaction to submission.
What a mess, especially as in cases such as Basildon where there has been years of argument and debate and any sound plan is likely to be the same substantially as what is before the inspector now, especially as the most controversial element is to reduce brownfield housing in Basildon Town Centre, despite Basildon losing appeals on these site with regularity.
Would the South Essex Joint Strategic Plan help, yes there are a few cross border sites that would help, but primarily the political imperative is not to plan, by whatever means, and a solution which means slightly better plans for planners is a negative to politicians if it means bigger better sites coming forward t all. The South Essex Joint Strategic Plan, as I have said for three years, is dead as a dodo.
What is worse the new planning SoS looks completely impotent and many many authorities may follow Basildon and withdraw or ‘pause’. The SoS needs to act decisively. Once a local plan is more than five years old (or less of the previous inspector demanded an early review) +5% should be added to the standard method buffer each and every year, replacing every other uplift and the housing delivery test (which because of adhoc last minute changes and lack of predictability has become a farce), once a plan trip 10 years plus put of date the NPPG ‘presumption against’ for Green Belt should disapply – becoming like any other local plan policy capable of being out of date. Affordable housing, transport investment and levelling up funding should only be spent on local authorities that have up to date local plans. SoS show you have some balls and some teeth.