Government asks St Albans why it has failed to produce Strategic Local Plan

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. PHOTO: Ian Carter

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. PHOTO: Ian Carter - Credit: Archant

The Government may intervene in St Albans’ housing situation after it has failed to produce an up-to-date Strategic Local Plan (SLP).

Cllr Alec Campbell is the leader of St Albans council. Picture: James Ward/St Albans council

Cllr Alec Campbell is the leader of St Albans council. Picture: James Ward/St Albans council - Credit: Archant

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has written to MP Anne Main and St Albans district council (SADC) leader Cllr Alec Campbell to express concerns about the “lack of progress” towards an SLP.

He said: “In the 13 years that have passed since the 2004 Act [Local Plan] was introduced your council has failed to meet the deadlines set out in that timetable.

“The February 2017 Housing White Paper set out that we will prioritise intervention where, the least progress in plan-making has been made, policies in plans had not been kept up to date, there was higher housing pressure; and intervention would have the greatest impact in accelerating Local Plan


Anne Main in Parliament.

Anne Main in Parliament. - Credit: Archant

Mr Javid has asked Cllr Campbell and Mrs Main to outline the exceptional circumstances which justifies SADC’s position, and to explain the measures it has taken to speed up the process.

He says SLPs are needed in order to solve the current housing crisis.

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This comes after Mr Javid’s proposal to force house prices down in unaffordable areas, by changing the way authorities calculate housing need, was announced.

The new formula doubles the number of new builds SADC previously anticipated - from the period 2018 to 2036 it estimates 16,434 houses are needed, up from SADC’s forecasted 8,100.

That lower figure comes from the district’s now defunct SLP, which was the product of more than 10 years of hard labour but was thrown out by the High Court earlier this year.

Planning inspector David Hogger said SADC had not fully co-operated with neighbouring authorities after discussions broke down over the placement of settlements.

Since the High Court defeat SADC have started to re-assemble a new SLP - in the meantime, 350 houses have been approved on Green Belt land by Oaklands College.

MP Anne Main responded to Mr Javid’s letter: “St Albans has had to swallow a bitter pill. It has rightly been resisting inappropriate development like the railfreight.

“However, there is now a clear message: the council must prepare for the future by getting a plan in place. The choice is no longer whether or not to build, but where we build.”

She accused SADC of deliberately frustrating planning on an occasion in the past.

Adding: “This is the cautionary tale. Trying simply to frustrate development is costly and in my conversations with councillors, I am pleased that St Albans district is positively working across parties to deliver the local plan.

“What I’ve always said is that if we do not have a Local Plan, then the choice of where to build will be taken away from us.

“Having a plan in place will mean that we can fulfil our housing needs, while deciding where we want to build. Without a plan we are always vulnerable to speculative development.”

Mrs Main said she is pleased SADC are trying to get an SLP in place as soon as possible.

Portfolio Holder for Planning at SADC, Cllr Mary Maynard, said they are disappointed with the letter and are “well underway” with creating the new SLP, consulting with neighbouring authorities and the public.

“Our new timetable would see us submit a Local Plan to the Secretary of State in March 2019. Given the procedures demanded by the Secretary of State that is the earliest, realistic date it can be done.”

Commenting on the new housing calculation, she said: “It is inevitable that we will have to build on Green Belt to meet this target. Decisions will need to be made about where the homes should be located as well as what schools and other infrastructure will be required. For example, this number of homes means four more secondary schools and 14 more primary schools will be required.

“I feel it is best that these sensitive issues are decided locally, by elected Councillors in consultation with their communities, rather than imposed from afar by central Government officials who do not have a feel for the area.”