What measures are proposed to ensure full local plan coverage

The Housing and Planning Bill, published last week, provides a roadmap for how the government expects to ensure local plans are produced for the whole of England by early 2017.

Communities secretary Greg Clark
Communities secretary Greg Clark

Five of the bill's 145 clauses detail new powers giving the secretary of state stronger powers to direct the actions of local plan examiners and directly commission development plan documents at tardy local authorities' expense.

Ministers already have powers to intervene in local-plan making via the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, as communities secretary Greg Clark did this summer in calling in Maldon District Council's local plan.

Clause 97 of the bill gives the secretary of state a micro-management role in the examination process, allowing them to direct inspectors to suspend proceedings, "consider specified matters", "hear from specified persons" or "take other specified steps". Clause 99 lets the communities secretary instruct councils to prepare or revise local plans, take documents through examination and consider whether to adopt them. Clause 100 allows relevant councils to be charged examination costs.

Commentators said the powers are designed to speed up plan-making and act as a warning shot to those councils - around 12 per cent across England, according to Planning data from earlier this year - that have yet to publish a draft plan.

Recently retired planning inspector David Vickery, who examined the Maldon plan, said clause 97 will effectively end independent examination. "Examination of housing numbers or Gypsy accommodation needs could be stopped and the inspector prevented from issuing an unfavourable interim report recommending withdrawal," he warned.

Simon Ricketts, partner at law firm King & Wood Mallesons, said appealing to the secretary of state to step in could provide a new option for people with concerns over particular elements in a local plan, while clause 99 would make it less burdensome for ministers to intervene in plan-making. "The secretary of state will not necessarily have to take over preparation of the plan but will direct the authority to take specified steps," he said.

Phil Villars, managing director of consultancy Indigo Planning, said he expects ministers to use the powers only in extreme cases. "The government doesn't have any desire to be preparing local plans for authorities.

But in a small minority of cases the recognition that this could happen will serve as a stick of sorts," he said.

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