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Council warned over key planning document

County Hall, Northumberland County Council HQ.
County Hall, Northumberland County Council HQ.

The Government has told Northumberland County Council that its key planning document  must be ready sooner than billed.

The authority has reaffirmed its commitment to producing a Local Plan  – which sets out where development will take place across the county – in the shortest timescale possible after being warned that it should speed up the process  and make the timetable clearer.

In November last year, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Sajid Javid identified 15 local authorities which he felt had not made enough progress with their Local Plans and outlined the possibility of government intervention.

In the case of Northumberland, the Core Strategy, a key element of the Local Plan, was withdrawn last summer after the Conservative administration took control at County Hall. This means that the council does not expect its Local Plan to be in place until summer 2020.

On Friday, Mr Javid provided an update in writing to the authorities in question, informing the leader of Northumberland County Council that while he would not be intervening at this time, the possibility remained.

He said that the plan’s preparation could be accelerated by up to three months, based on advice from the Planning Advisory Service, and that the timetable should be amended accordingly and also made more clear by referring to specific months.

‘I will continue to monitor your progress closely and any further significant delays will cause me to have considerable doubt as to whether your council is doing everything that is necessary in connection with the preparation of its Local Plan,’ he added. ‘I will not hesitate to consider how to use the full range of powers Parliament has given me to ensure that a Plan is in place.’

Council leader Peter Jackson said: “The people of Northumberland made it clear they had little confidence in the previous approach and I’m pleased that Sajid Javid has recognised our commitment to producing a sound and deliverable Local Plan and the progress we have already made.

“We have measures in place to ensure that plan production is prioritised and well-resourced, and note the Secretary of State’s comments about streamlining the evidence base and accelerating the Plan preparation programme by up to three months.

“We welcome the offer of further support from the Planning Advisory Service to ensure we meet these revised timescales.”

But the Labour group, which was in power when the now-withdrawn Core Strategy was developed, has continued to criticise the new leadership on this issue.

Group leader Grant Davey said: “The Secretary of State’s decision to send in a team to oversee the new Tory core plan is a damning indictment of Coun Jackson’s decision to scrap Labour’s Core Strategy in July last year which will end up costing taxpayers massively and will also mean a developers’ free-for-all for the foreseeable future.

“Coun Jackson was in receipt of expert officer and legal advice which urged him not to scrap the plan, but he went ahead anyway. Many councillors have told me they would have voted differently if they had seen the advice.

“It’s embarrassing enough to be sanctioned by his own government, to have saddled the Northumberland taxpayer with more unnecessary spending and to have opened the county up to a developers’ free-for-all, but he also needs to answer why he withheld important officer and legal advice from consideration by the council on July 5. It’s time to be transparent and explain why the desperate rush to scrap Labour’s Core Strategy on July 5 last year which has resulted in the Government’s intervention.”

Coun Jackson has previously said that the previous plan ‘was destined to fail at public inspection – for the same reasons as the failed inspection in Durham – as the evidence for their huge increase in housing numbers was lacking’.