Planning inspector rejects St Albans Strategic Local Plan (SLP)
PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 December 2016
Serious doubts have been cast over St Albans’ future expansion and housing numbers, after a planning inspector accused the district council of being vague and failing to cooperate with neighbouring authorities.
Nearby councils pushing to build houses in St Albans, including in our Green Belt, might get their wish after the authority’s draft Strategic Local Plan (SLP), proposing the building of 436 homes annually until 2031, was effectively rejected following an initial independent examination.
After a public hearing session on October 26, examining whether the council had cooperated with neighbouring councils over suitable future housing targets and cross-boundary issues, including infrastructure, planning inspector David Hogger sent his conclusions to the authority on Monday (28).
Mr Hogger said that, under the circumstances, there were two options for the draft planning blueprint. The council could simply receive his report, but “given my findings I would have to recommend non-adoption of the SLP.
“Alternatively, the council may choose to withdraw the SLP. In any event I would advise the council to undertake a more rigorous assessment of cross-boundary matters. Any necessary consultation should be undertaken and a revised plan re-submitted as soon as possible.”
Dacorum, Hertsmere, Three Rivers and Watford councils had submitted evidence to the hearing, criticising St Albans district council for its level of engagement.
Some authorities believe up to 700 homes should be built annually in the district, and they have even asked the local body to help them meet their own ‘substantial’ housing need, by accommodating their population overflow – a wish that has so far been rejected by St Albans council.
But, Mr Hogger condemned the SLP for giving “no clear indication as to what the strategic priorities are, particularly those with cross-boundary implications.
“The council needs to demonstrate that no stone has been left unturned in the pursuit of cooperation. There is little evidence that a rigorous approach has been adopted by the council.
“No in-depth analysis of issues facing local planning authorities in the area appears to have been undertaken by St Albans and no robust assessment of how those issues should be addressed has been prepared. The level of diligence, particularly in terms of seeking engagement, has not been high.”
Furthermore, while cross-boundary issues such as housing, employment and infrastructure “may be difficult issues to tackle, that is no reason to adopt a less than constructive approach throughout the planning process,” the inspector added.
He said St Albans could not be “selective over which of its neighbours it cooperates with”.
An unimpressed Cllr Julian Daly, leader of the district council, said: “This has already been a long and difficult process. It’s not clear to me how the inspector has taken into account independent representations made in support of the council.”
He disputed assertions that his council had failed to cooperate with neighbouring authorities, pointing out there had been many meetings between councillors and planning officials over the years, “and they have had ample opportunity to talk about this, but this [evidence presented at the hearing] was their first formal approach”.
Cllr Daly told the Herts Advertiser he was not sure what course of action the council would take in response to the inspector’s recommendations.
However, he said one option was that developers involved in the consultation might consider taking legal action over the inspector’s conclusions, as their proposed schemes would now face delays as a result. He added: “They could call for a judicial review – it’s a possibility.”
Cllr Daly admitted there was a risk that, should the plan ultimately struggle to be formally adopted, the document could be “taken over by the government” for completion.
St Albans has a very old local plan, dating back to 1994.