South Oxfordshire challenges Jenrick's threat to decide on its local plan

South Oxfordshire District Council has written to housing secretary Robert Jenrick to challenge his threatened use of legal powers to approve the authority's local plan himself.

South Oxfordshire District Council
South Oxfordshire District Council

Last week, Jenrick issued a holding direction to stop South Oxfordshire from voting to scrap its emerging local plan.

A follow-up letter from officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said that Jenrick was considering whether to take consideration of the plan out of the council's hands and approve it himself under powers in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004.

In response, council leader Mark Stone’s letter questioned whether Jenrick would be using his powers correctly if he took decision-making on the plan away from the council.

He said: "It is…unclear as to why you are considering making a direction that you should approve the plan at this time."

Stone said that powers under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 "only allows you to require the Local Planning Authority to modify its plan where you consider the Plan is unsatisfactory (which you have accepted does not apply here)".

He also said that the act "also relates to the situation where you think the plan is unsound (again, you have accepted this does not apply here)".

In addition, Stone said Jenrick would only have the power to approve the plan himself in circumstances where he has concerns over its content.

Stone said: "As far as I am aware you do not have any concerns about the council’s plan, particularly given your stated position, within your letter of 9 October 2019, that you consider it essential that the plan is progressed through examination."

The letter went on to say that the current uncertainty is "impacting on our day to day ability to provide services and information to our residents".

It asked Jenrick to clarify his "position as a matter of urgency and in any event no later than Monday 21 October 2019".

Under the act, the holding direction means the emerging plan has "no effect whilst the direction is in force", the letter added.

Stone said: "This has implications for live planning applications and the delivery of much needed housing and all other development."

He said he had informed planning inspectors examining the plan that officers are unable to work on the plan and would not be able to respond to initial questions by a deadline set by the inspectors.

In a separate letter to Jenrick, Layla Morgan, the Lib Dem MP for Oxford and West Abingdon criticised his actions and appealed for him to work in partnership with the council.

She said: "I am writing to ask that you rethink your approach to this issue, which is being seen as very heavy handed.

"Your letter says you want to work constructively, yet your actions so far don’t seem to match these words."

The council’s local plan was submitted for examination in March by the local authority's previous Conservative administration.

Local elections in May saw control of the authority pass to a coalition of Lib Dems, Greens and independent councillors, many of whom were elected after campaigning against the local plan.

Earlier this month, the council’s cabinet resolved to scrap the existing plans and begin work on fresh proposals.

However, Jenrick's direction meant that full council was unable to vote last week on withdrawing the plan.

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