Letter responds to Government questions about St Albans Local Plan delays

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid. PHOTO: Ian Carter

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

St Albans council has explained why it has still not completed an up-to-date Local Plan - 14 years after it was first instructed to produce one.

Last November Communities Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to St Albans MP Anne Main and district council leader Cllr Alec Campbell to express concerns about the plan’s “lack of progress”.

He threatened Government intervention if reasons for the delay were not satisfactory - meaning local residents would have less of a say as to where 15,000 new homes needed to be built in the district before 2036.

The former Strategic Local Plan (SLP) was thrown out by a High Court judge last summer after the district council (SADC) was accused of not fully co-operating with neighbouring councils, and the SADC was forced to start over.

A public consultation on the new LP is currently in full swing with a unprecedented level of engagement - more than 1,000 people have responded in two weeks, more than the last Strategic Local Plan (SLP) had in six weeks.

Cllr Campbell detailed the history of St Albans’ SLP to Mr Javid in a four page letter, including how the 2011 draft plan was rejected amidst calls for an independent Green Belt review, and the circumstances behind the judicial review, but did not explain why no plan was produced before this date.

Instead, Cllr Campbell addressed the steps SADC had taken since they lost the review in July 2017: “The council has quickly and proactively moved forward on producing a new Local Plan and on working jointly with its neighbouring councils.

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“As such the council believes that it is the best body to progress a new plan swiftly.”

Mrs Main also backed SADC in her reply: “I would like firstly to pay tribute to the St Albans council on this consultation and believe that it signals real intent to implement the Local Plan.

“I believe the plan is pragmatic, necessary and commendable.”

She said all six of the new plan’s aims are laudable, with the right kind of houses in the right places to provide jobs, protect historic buildings and wildlife, and stop urban sprawl.

She added: “I know that there are difficult decisions ahead, but I commend the steps that the council is taking in consulting with local people on their wishes for the future of their district.

“I look forward to the outcomes of this consultation and further progress on the implementation of this much-needed Local Plan.”

Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami has also sent a letter voicing his agreement with Mrs Main.

Portfolio holder for planning at SADC, Cllr Mary Maynard said: “As a Council, we have been putting a tremendous effort into producing a new Local Plan.

“We have had extensive discussions with neighbouring Councils and taken on board their concerns and suggestions. We believe this will fully address the duty to cooperate issues that were found in the last plan. We have also kept both of the District’s MPs fully informed and involved in what we are doing.

“Furthermore, in drawing up a new Local Plan we are consulting on the difficult choices involved as a consequence of meeting the Government’s target of planning for more than 900 new homes a year.”

She is confident the Secretary of State will be impressed with the work input to the LP and will not intervene.

Adding: “It’s far better that difficult and challenging decisions on the Local Plan are made by the residents’ locally-elected representatives rather than by Whitehall officials who will not have a passion or a real feel for the area.”

View and comment on the plans at www.stalbans.gov.uk/planning/thelocalplan.aspx by February 21.