Councils scramble to avert Javid's intervention threat, by Richard Garlick

In November, communities secretary Sajid Javid notified 15 councils that he said had failed to make adequate progress on their local plans of his intention to take control of plan-making in their areas.

His aim was to show councils that at that point had failed to produce a plan that they could no longer do so with impunity.

The 15 councils were given until the end of this month to present any mitigating circumstances, at which point the secretary of state is due to make a final decision on whether to "write their plan for them".

No-one knows for certain what justifications the secretary of state will see as adequate, or how he will get the plans written if he chooses to take the controls. Newly-renamed government agency Homes England has said it is readying itself to take on that role, but itself faces a big task in rebuilding its planning capacity.

Javid's language has been bullish, but no-one will know for sure how willing he is to intervene widely until he responds to the 15 councils' justifications.

However, the effect on some of the councils concerned is already evident. Mansfield District Council in Nottinghamshire has revealed that it will tell Javid that "exceptional circumstances", including the loss at one point last year of all but one member of its planning policy team, delayed its plan's production.

St Albans City and District Council has launched a consultation on a new draft of its local plan in a bid to stave off intervention. Officers at Thanet District Council in Kent tried to do the same thing, with the same end in mind, only to see it rejected by a majority of councillors.

Clearly, these councils believe that Javid is not bluffing, and presumably others among the 15 feel the same way. It shows what effect the belief that the government is prepared to insist on plan production can have. But, of course, the momentum will quickly dissipate after January 31 if Javid does not follow through on his threat, or seems to do so in a token way.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning // 

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