Castle Point revised local plan needs to be delivered ‘faster’

Castle Point District Council has been urged by the Government to deliver its new and revised local plan “at pace” in light of its decision to start the process all over again.

But the Government’s response has been described as weak by planning consultants.

A masterplan for Castle Point featuring 5,325 homes was withdrawn in June which the council says will be replaced with one with a lower housing target.

All three parties in Castle Point Borough Council have agreed to work towards a new local plan with a housing allocation lower than the 5,325 home target imposed by the government over the next decade.

It means Castle Point Borough Council may now have little more than 18 months to devise an improved version before the Government intervenes to decide where the homes should go.

While voting against its previous version in March, the council made it clear it was not being withdrawn altogether. Among the major concerns for the plan was to allocate land in Canvey Island for housing.

But a motion passed by full council on June 15 that called for the unadopted local plan to be scrapped altogether and a new one started with a lower housing number “that reflects local need” was subsequently acted on.

The Government has now written to the council reminding it of its commitment to “having effective, up to date plans in place”.

A letter from Minster of State Marcus Jones to Councillor Dave Blackwell, Leader of Castle Point Borough Council, said: “Given my recent appointment as Minister for Housing, I thought would take the opportunity to write to you as the new leader of Castle Point Council regarding the Castle Point Local Plan.

“The Government is committed to having effective, up to date plans in place as this is essential to planning for and meeting housing need; in ways that make good use of land and result in well-designed and attractive places to live.

“In the light of the withdrawal of the Castle Point Local Plan, I would encourage you to ensure that the Council make progress to prepare a timetable for the delivery of a new Local Plan as soon as possible.

“This will provide certainty for communities, businesses and developers, reduce speculative development and supports our villages, towns and cities to develop in a way that preserves the unique character of their communities.”

He added: “The Government strongly believes in the plan-led system. Plans enable local areas to set out their strategy for future growth and their approach to protecting and enhancing local character, as well as securing community buy in.

“To support this we are bringing forward ambitious and wide-ranging reforms through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, of which the planning measures are a key part.

“The planning measures will give local leaders and communities the tools they need to regenerate towns and cities, create better places and restore local pride.

“Planning is a key enabler of regeneration, planning measures in the bill will support regeneration by enabling more effective use of land, improving land value capture and supporting infrastructure delivery. I would expect you to deliver your new local plan at pace while keeping these proposals clearly in mind.”

But the Government has been criticised for not showing more steel given the original draft local plan was deemed ‘sound’ and suitable for adoption by a Government inspector.

Tim Burden, planning director at planning and development consultancy Turley, said the Government should be stronger.

Writing on social media he said: “Letters like this to Castle Point don’t really give you much faith in the government’s commitment to a plan-led system.

“One of many authorities that need actual intervention or nothing will happen. Years of weak threats and no action from Government.”

A DLUHC spokesperson said: “Councils, not central government, are best placed to take decisions on their local plan, according to the needs of their communities.

“Any decisions in relation to intervention in plan-making would be considered on a case-by-case basis, taking into account local circumstances.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter