Essex councils named among ‘worst’ for planning and development by housing minister

The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Michael Gove has ‘named and shamed’ three Essex authorities for being among the seven “worst” in the country for falling short of planning and development targets.

Speaking at the headquarters of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) on Tuesday December 19, Mr Gove outlined the government’s response to the Levelling Up and Regeneration bill, which will see reforms to national planning policy and an overhaul of the local planning process.

He said that it is imperative that local authorities “must have a plan in place, must deliver against it, and must demonstrate fast and effective performance” when giving the green light to large-scale infrastructure and housing developments.

However, he added: “Where there is and has been consistent underperformance, I will act… there is no greater failure than the failure to actually have a (local) plan in place.”

Mr Gove said that not only had the seven named councils been unsuccessful in adopting a local plan, but that they had not submitted one for examination since 2004. The three Essex authorities included in this number were Basildon Borough Council, Castle Point Borough Council and Uttlesford District Council,.

Additionally, all seven councils received a letter on December 19 from the Secretary of State making clear their positions in relation to the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

In his letter to Basildon Council leader Andrew Baggott (Con. Burstead), Mr Gove said: “Your council’s persistent failure to adopt a plan has left your communities vulnerable to speculative development and has risked not delivering the economic growth and infrastructure they need.

“Given the lack of progress your authority has made towards adopting a plan over the last 19 years, I have considered whether I am justified in using my powers of intervention to ensure that your authority has an up-to-date timetable, which indicates whether you will submit a draft plan in the current system.”

Councils have been given a 12-week deadline, at the end of which they must provide the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) with an updated local plan or proposal. If this is not produced, Mr Gove said he would implement “further interventions to ensure a plan is put in place”.

In their own statement, Castle Point Borough Council told LDRS: “The council has received a letter from the Secretary of State for the Levelling Up Homes and Communities regarding progress on the preparation of a new local plan for the borough.

“The council acknowledges that it does not have an up-to-date local plan in place and is working on a new plan, which will be submitted before the Government’s deadline of June 2025. It will work with government officials to respond to the Secretary of State’s letter by 12 January to address the concerns raised.”

Speaking shortly after Mr Gove’s speech had concluded, Basildon Council leader Andrew Baggott said: “On one hand I could be very disparaging about the fact that [Basildon Council] has worked with the government and raised concerns about their forked-tongued green belt policy, their not-fit-for-purpose algorithm, and all we’ve had is doublespeak and vagueness in response.

“On the other side, we may be entering a situation in which the government is listening. I am assuming Mr Gove wants a response within 12 weeks, not a full local plan; that is something which is physically impossible to produce.

“We’ve written to the government at each step of the way. There are statutory deadlines which we have to work to, and we are on target with those.”

Uttlesford District Council’s struggle to adopt an up-to-date local plan has been well-documented. Local authorities are legally required to present a new draft plan every five years; Uttlesford had two draft plans rejected in 2014 and 2019, with its currently adopted plan dating back to 2005.

The government has established a deadline for all councils to have updated local plans adopted by Summer 2025.

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Emma Doyle

Local Democracy Reporter