Essex councillors vote down local plan despite ministerial intervention warnings

An Essex council is facing central government intervention after councillors last night refused to authorise a consultation on its draft local plan plan ahead of its submission for examination.

Castle Point Council offices. Pic: Terry Joyce,
Castle Point Council offices. Pic: Terry Joyce,

Castle Point Borough Council was among 15 local authorities warned by Sajid Javid in November last year that it faced central government intervention over its failure to adopt a local plan.

"Castle Point appears to have failed to make progress on plan-making, the policies do not appear to be up to date and there is high housing pressure," Javid wrote, adding that the council’s reasons for failing to adopt a plan "do not appear to be exceptional circumstances".

In March this year, Castle Point was one of three local authorities to receive a further rebuke from Javid over lack of plan-making progress.

Javid, who was communities secretary at the time, warned he was preparing to intervene and was speaking to Essex County Council about preparing a local plan on behalf of the borough.

In June, Castle Point committed to preparation of a new local plan with a target submission date in April next year and adoption next summer.

At a special council meeting last night, planning officers warned of the consequences of failure to consult on the new local plan and proceed towards submission.

Their report  said: "The council remains at great risk of intervention and this will lead to considerable reputational damage on a national scale. This may cause other non-intended consequences such as inability to attract staff; implications for joint working arrangements and funding opportunities which could last over many years," officers said.

"Council is reminded that intervention by government in any area of local government business is a last resort and follows poor decision-making and failure to follow government direction and advice. Intervention is a sanction and should not be considered as an alternative mechanism to deliver a local plan."

Nevertheless, councillors voted 16 to 15 against the local plan. Officers warned that the council is now all but certain to have a local plan imposed upon it with no involvement from members.

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has also indicated that any strategic planning applications submitted in Castle Point will now be referred directly to the Planning Inspectorate, officers said.

Castle Point leader Norman Smith said the council remains committed to working towards adoption of a plan.

He said: "Castle Point Borough Council wishes to retain its local plan-making powers and is committed to put in place a new local plan to an accelerated timetable as shared with the secretary of state with an emphasis on planning for growth in an area of high housing demand."

A MHCLG spokesman said: "A decision on whether to intervene in Castle Point’s local plan will be made in due course."

A feature looking at how Castle Point and the two other councils facing MHCLG scrutiny of their local plan preparation processes can be found here.

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