Second planning authority pauses local plan process ahead of 'significant changes'

Out-Law News | 06 Jan 2017 | 4:58 pm | 1 min. read

Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) has delayed the planned publication of its draft local plan for a second time, citing the potential for "significant changes" to local housing policy as a result of the government's White Paper on housing.

The council's decision follows that of Durham County Council, which announced just before Christmas that it was "pausing" publication of its County Durham Plan until the government's future housing policy became clear.

The government had originally planned to set out its plans for delivering one million new homes in a Housing White Paper before the end of 2016. The paper is now expected before the end of this month. Ahead of this, the government made a number of housing-related announcements in the first week of 2017 including the location of the first 'garden village' settlements and funding for starter homes.

Planning law expert Elizabeth Wiseman of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that although Theresa May's government "seems to be taking the housing crisis seriously", there was still considerable uncertainty about the future direction of policy.

"Unfortunately, the confusion for local planning authorities regarding their responsibilities and the number of houses that they will be required to plan for has led to inevitable delay in order to avoid producing out of date local plans," she said.

"A consequence of this delay is that there is uncertainty and confusion for the housing industry which is highly damaging to the delivery of housing. The sooner the Housing White Paper is published, the better for both local planning authorities and the housing industry. The good news is that the Housing White Paper is expected imminently - however, whether it creates the certainty that the housing industry requires remains to be seen," she said.

In a statement on its website, Durham County Council said that the "indications" from the government were that its paper would "change how local plans ... calculate the number and type of houses needed as well as how they are then delivered".

"As the new legislation could require us to make significant changes to the work on the plan so far, the process will now be paused until there is clarity on the proposals in the White Paper so that these can be taken into account before further consultation is carried out," it said in its statement.

CBC said on its own website that it was "confident" that it would still be able to publish its draft plan for consultation in 2017.

"While we're disappointed that we cannot proceed with the plan in line with our original timescales, the decision is the right one given the fundamental changes that may be included in the White Paper," it said. "Publishing a local plan without understanding the impact of the White Paper could mean we have to revisit parts of the process causing bigger delays and confusion."