St Albans Local Plan delayed to autumn 2025

Housing minister Christopher Pincher MP met with residents of retirement homes in Lower Stondon

In November 2021, Housing Minister Christopher Pincher said all local authorities should have an up to date Local Plan by 2023. - Credit: Central Bedfordshire Council

The long-awaited, much-delayed St Albans Local Plan is unlikely to be adopted until autumn 2025 at the earliest - two years after a government deadline.

The planning masterplan for 14,000 new homes in the district will fail to achieve its target according to a new timeline set out by the council.

Government ministers have said all local authorities should have a plan in place by 2023.

SADC, which has the second oldest Local Plan in the country, has also said to meet this new target it will require an extra £180,000 spent on new staff to complete technical work ahead of a public consultation.

The district council had to start again on their plan after a draft was thrown out in November 2020, when inspectors raised serious concerns about the soundness of the proposals.

The council is expected to build 14,608 homes between 2020 and 2036, with the plan mapping out land for developments, as well as new infrastructure and employment projects.

Last year, the district council opened a call for sites to allow landowners and developers to suggest land for inclusion in the plan.

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In a report to councillors ahead of a meeting of the district council’s Local Plan advisory group next week, officers said the process resulted in “significantly more” sites coming forward than anticipated and more resources would be needed.

Of the 200 sites to come forward at this stage, which is focused on identifying larger developments, 186 were in the Green Belt with just 14 in urban areas.

The next stage involves technical work to assess the suitability of those sites, but the council will not be restricted to those sites when putting together their draft plan.

The report also admits the district council is now looking at finishing the process at least two years beyond a Government deadline.

Councils without an up to date plan risk being powerless against speculative planning applications, and central government could intervene and force a plan upon local authorities.

In November 2021, Housing Minister Christopher Pincher said all local authorities should have an up to date Local Plan by 2023.

However, officers have outlined potential new timelines for the plan, with the earliest adoption date expected in 2025.

The report said the higher than expected response is having a “significant impact” on the staff resource available, and more resources will be needed to undertake technical work on the plan.

If the council does not employ more staff to work on the plan, officers estimate adoption may not be until 2026 – with the first consultation beginning in summer 2023.

The first option offered to councillors is to hire three additional members of staff working on the plan. With extra staffing, the council hopes to adopt a plan by Autumn 2025, with the first public consultation beginning in January or February 2023. This option is expected to cost the council an extra £180,000 on top of their base budget.

If the council chooses the second option, to fund 1.5 full time employees, the start of the first consultation could be pushed until spring 2023, with a plan adopted by the winter. This option is expected to cost the council an extra £90,000.

Officers are recommending the Local Plan advisory group agree to the first option at a meeting next week.

The plans will then be voted on by councillors on the district council’s policy committee in February.

Following the call for sites, officers will conduct a technical assessment of land put forward before collating any realistic sites into a draft plan. This would then be subject to two rounds of public consultation, before submission to the planning inspector.