Why an Essex council is now facing local plan intervention

An Essex council whose local plan production timescale is undergoing Whitehall scrutiny is now likely to miss its key development strategy deadlines following a vote against the document. But observers say immediate central government intervention is not certain.

Castle Point: council faces central government intervention over local plan progress
Castle Point: council faces central government intervention over local plan progress

Castle Point Borough Council in south Essex was one of 15 local authorities singled out in November last year by the then housing secretary Sajid Javid for taking too long to produce their development strategies. He warned that Whitehall would take over production of their local plans. In March, Javid said Castle Point would be one of three councils to face further scrutiny for failing to reach key "milestones" in their own local plan timetable.

Since then, the Tory-controlled council’s local plan has been prepared under an accelerated timetable agreed with government. It has also been scrutinised by consultants appointed by the government in March and found to be in order, according to the planning committee’s Conservative chair Simon Hart.

But Castle Point members brought the prospect of government intervention nearer when they rejected the latest version of the plan by the slimmest of majorities at a special council meeting at the end of November. "Many councillors objected to the proposals to build housing on green belt sites," said Hart. According to officers, 14 of the plan’s 29 sites are in the green belt.

The council’s chief executive, David Marchant, said the authority is now unlikely to meet its endof- January deadline to put an agreed local plan out for consultation. The council is left in limbo, he said, having been unable to agree to progress a legal and technically compliant local plan. Central government has been informed and the authority is awaiting a response, Marchant said. A decision on intervention will be made in due course, according to a statement from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

Commentators said ministers would now feel more pressure to take over plan production, having issued threats to do so. Martin Curtis, associate director at public affairs consultancy Curtin & Co, claims the likelihood of this has "reduced" since James Brokenshire took over earlier this year from Javid, who pioneered the intervention programme. Curtis points out that Brokenshire is Essex-born and was an MP in the county up to 2010 and is therefore more likely to sympathise with Castle Point’s predicament.

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