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Brokenshire issues directions over Wirral and Thanet local plans

Words: Laura Edgar
James Brokenshire / Shutterstock_586462214

Housing secretary James Brokenshire has issued directions to Wirral Council and Thanet District Council for their failure to implement an up-to-date local plan.

He has decided that neither council has met the requirements of Section 27(1) of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 in that:

  • They do not have an up-to-date local plan in place.
  • They have failed to meet local plan milestones in a number of local development schemes – five since 2006 for Thanet and six since 2004 for Wirral.
  • They have failed to plan for and deliver the homes their area needs.

In November 2017 the government revealed that it was considering intervening where councils had not produced a local plan. In March last year it was announced that England’s chief planner would visit three of 15 councils threatened with intervention for not compiling a local plan to assess whether the government should take over the process.

Regarding Thanet, Brokenshire has to decided to make a direction in relation to the preparation of the Thanet Local Plan, in line with 27(2)(b) of the 2004 act. In a letter he says the council must designate a lead councillor and lead official to be responsible for progressing the preparation of the local plan to publish details of those designation within four weeks of the date of the letter (28 January).

Listing his considerations for intervention, including whether policies in plans have been kept up to date and the high housing pressure, the housing secretary is “satisfied that intervention action is justified”.

Brokenshire also wants Thanet to amend its local development scheme dated July 2018 to provide a local plan review within six months of its adoption, within eight weeks of the date of his letter. He writes: “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."

He added that he wants to put on public record that he is concerned about the “low level of housing supply and deliver in Thanet”.

Thanet District Council told The Planner: "The council has significantly progressed with its local plan, which was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate on 30 October 2018, with a public examination expected in the coming months. The council has reviewed the actions in the secretary of state’s letter and can confirm that arrangements are already in place to meet the majority of requirements set out, any others will be incorporated into our processes without unnecessarily delaying examination of the plan. Given this positive progress and constructive dialogue with MHCLG, the council is disappointed that there wasn’t more recognition of this within the letter and will be responding directly to the secretary of state. The council will continue to work positively with MHCLG to progress with its plan."

Wirral Council has been issued “certain directions” in line with the 2004 act. Within 10 weeks of his letter, also dated 28 January, Brokenshire expects the council to:

  • Designate a lead councillor and lead official to be responsible for progressing preparation of the local plan.
  • Publish an action plan setting out the actions that will be taken to get a local plan in place, including the allocation of sufficient land for housing for the whole of Wirral for the plan period. The action plan must be verified by “independent planning experts”.

Wirral Council has been directed to report monthly to Brokenshire’s officials on its progress.

Although Wirral does not have high housing pressures, Brokenshire says: “I consider that it would be appropriate to intervene because Wirral Council’s performance in respect of the other criteria is lamentable”. The council’s last local plan was adopted in February 2000 and covered the period to March 2001. He considers Wirral to have made the least progress of the 15 authorities the government initially intervened in.

Wirral Council told The Planner that the leader of the council, Phil Davies, has sent a letter in reply to Brokenshire, explaining that many of the actions he requires have already begun, including that a lead councillor and lead official are in place. Davies adds: “I am confident we have the resources, expertise and capacity in place to deliver a local plan which is appropriate and robust to meet the housing needs of our residents.”

The council disputes the government’s agreed number of houses that need to be built each year after the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released figures suggesting that Wirral's annual target should be around 500. Brokenshire is explicit in his letter that the council has an annual housing need of 803 homes.

In July last year, deputy leader of Wirral Council said releasing green belt land in the area’s local plan to meet housing would be a “last resort”. In response to Brokenshire's intervention, he said the government “wants to have its cake and eat it”.

“Wirral is, as the secretary of state acknowledges, taking ‘positive action’ and engaging in a ‘constructive way’ with his department. However, he is still insisting on us using his government’s ‘standard method for assessing housing need’ which says we must build 12,000 homes by 2035, which works out as 800 a year.

“However, the ONS has since released revised figures indicating the target is much lower, around 500 a year, and would mitigate almost all the risk to the borough’s green belt.

“The secretary of state says in his letter that ‘authorities should make a realistic assessment of the number of homes their communities need’ and I believe we are best placed to make that judgement.”

Read more:

James Brokenshire letter to Thanet District Council (pdf)

James Brokenshire letter to Wirral Council (pdf)

Wirral Council considers green belt land release in local plan

Quartermain to assess three councils over lack of local plan

Councils and local plans

Image credit | Shutterstock