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County councils warm to potential new local plan-making role

Published: Thursday, 3rd November 2016

Amendments made to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill will allow county councils ‘by invitation’ to prepare development plan documents where a district council was failing to do so…

County councils have given a guarded welcome to the government’s amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill. The changes would revise local plan making to allow for joint and strategic planning across broader areas as well as default powers ‘by invitation’ to counties to prepare development plan documents where a district council was failing to prepare, revise or adopt such a document.

A spokesman for the County Councils Network (CCN) said: “We believe that these amendments set out options which retain a plan-led approach, and seek to keep decisions as close to people as possible, rather than relying on central control or ad hoc development.

“Despite the best efforts of local government partners, housing in county areas remains the least affordable outside of London and productivity in counties lags behind cities.

“CCN will be working closely with the Department for Communities and Local Government and district partners to continue developing an approach which brings the public sector together to deliver timely, appropriate and affordable housing for our residents.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is aware that counties may not currently have the capacity to take over new local planning responsibilities. The question of resources will be discussed as the legislation gathers pace.

Planning Minister Gavin Barwell made it clear during the Bill’s committee stage in the Commons that the new power to involve counties in local plan preparation might never be used.

He told MPs: “The only circumstances in which the power could ever be used would be if a district council somewhere in the country were failing to produce a local plan that met need in its area. To county councils, I would say, ‘Don’t get too excited’ because I do not think the intention is to make regular use of this power.”

The Public Bill Committee has now completed its line by line consideration of the amended Bill which has so far suffered no government defeats. Following the Report Stage and Third Reading in the Commons the legislation will move to the Lords.

Roger Milne