Whether Castle Point’s failure to cooperate with their Neighbouring Councils is worthy of challenging or not, requires open discussion sooner rather than later.
The issue does not form part of the Cabinet Agenda for this months meeting, however a Special Council meeting is scheduled for the 15th February, in which the response to the Inspector’s decision may be discussed.
Up until now the major decisions regarding the local plan have fallen upon the full council to decide.
The official statement from the Castle Point ceo reads;
‘The Council is naturally disappointed with the Inspector’s conclusions, particularly as evidence of the extensive dialogue between Castle Point and our neighbours had been put before the Inspector both prior to and during the hearing on the 12 December which he acknowledged had been active on-going and sustained.
The Council takes the view that protecting the green belt is more important than providing new housing and wanted this principle to be tested in public by an Inspector.
There are significant implications from the Inspector’s conclusions for the Council and neighbouring South Essex Authorities in that there needs to be a “formal mechanism in place to distribute” housing that cannot be met through their individual plans in order to meet the Duty to Co-operate.
The Council will now need to consider the letter in more detail before deciding the next course of action.’
The emphasis in the cpbc ceo’s statement is “that there needs to be a “formal mechanism in place to distribute” housing that cannot be met through their individual plans...”
However the Examining Inspector letter concludes;
” Bringing matters together engagement in the preparation of the New Local Plan can, in general terms, be said to have been active and on-going.”
” Engagement should also be constructive. This goes beyond the preparation of a joint evidence base, important though that is, but also encompasses the production of effective strategic planning policies and a positive approach. There would be no point in holding a continual dialogue if, at the end of the day, the policies produced ignored important cross-boundary dimensions. Unfortunately at Castle Point this is what has happened. “
“In specific terms the housing policies have failed to address how unmet need will be dealt with across the housing market area. This is exacerbated by the lack of consideration of this matter when reducing the housing target by 50%. Whether these policies are justified is a matter of soundness. However, there have been fundamental shortcomings in the steps taken, or not taken, to secure the necessary cooperation on the strategic cross-boundary matter of housing. “
Government Guidance explains what is expected of the Duty to Cooperate;
“It places a legal duty on local planning authorities, county councils in England and public bodies to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis to maximise the effectiveness of Local and Marine Plan preparation in the context of strategic cross boundary matters.
The duty to cooperate is not a duty to agree. But local planning authorities should make every effort to secure the necessary cooperation on strategic cross boundary matters before they submit their Local Plans for examination.”
So whilst the old Regional Strategies were rejected, there now appears an expectation of Housing Market Area strategies to take their place!
Whether it is fair to consider the 4 neighbouring Boroughs as being of the same Housing Market area maybe a little unrealistic at this time, although there is a distinct move to engulf the northern (our) part of the Thames Gateway area into a greater London suburb.
Thankfully that day falls outside of the local plan period.
Records produced as evidence by Mr Rogers of CPBC indicated that the neighbouring councils met to discuss a joint local plan and this option was rejected.
The Inspector’s main issue is that CPBC decided to publish a Local Plan that, reduced the Housing Supply by 50%, without meeting with the other authorities to negotiate whether they could accept some of the Housing Need shortfall, prior to the Plan’s publication.
Of the other authorities it would appear difficult to expect Southend, Rochford or Basildon to assist. That leaves only Thurrock with any apparent ability to accept a level of housing capacity.
Thurrock is a growth area, is constrained by a little over 50% of its area being Green Belt land and is a Unitary authority, therefore is a local authoritiy that is responsible for the provision of all local government services within its district. Unitary authorities were created to typically allow large towns to have separate local authorities from the less urbanised parts of their counties. Funding is an issue for them, that growth eases.
However, given the apparent ill-will between Castle Point and Thurrock local authorities, over cpbc’s continued aspiration to create a 2nd exit route off of Canvey Island via Thurrock and desire to protect its Green Belt reflected in the housing supply figures, some negotiating positions may need to be established quickly to placate the Examining Inspector!
The alternative would be to follow the much criticised St.Albans local authority’s route, of challenging the Inspector’s decision on their Local Plan and the failure to Cooperate.
This route appears to involve taking legal proceedings against the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, MP Sajid Javid.
It would be unthinkable that a legal challenge from Castle Point, should we be able to afford it, would influence in any way the Secretary of State’s consideration of the Jotmans Farm Appeal Inquiry, wouldn’t it?
It will be interesting to note how cpbc view their position.
The responsibility for laying out the procedures to follow in the Duty to Cooperate falls upon the local government officers. We heard mention that meetings between the neighbouring councils were attended by the Council leaders and the chief executives, therefore it would appear there is some collective responsibility. If it was agreed that cooperation was found to be impossible this should appear in some record or have been discussed between officers and members.
Perhaps it is an illustration of a breakdown in communication and trust.
The St Albans Review reported their local authority’s decision to challenge their Duty to Cooperate Failure thus;
“St Albans District Council has challenged an inspector’s conclusion it has not met its duty to co-operate while drawing up its Strategic Local Plan (SLP).
The council started legal proceedings last Thursday (January 5) against Sajid Javid, the secretary for communities and local government to quash the decision.
Last year, the council submitted its draft SLP for approval to the department for communities and local government (DCLG).
The DCLG appointed David Hogger, a planning inspector, to examine it, so he held an initial hearing on October 26 and sent the council his conclusions on 28 November.
He concluded the council had not met its duty to co-operate with neighbouring planning authorities while drawing up the SLP.
After taking legal advice, the council has decided to take legal action against Mr Javid.
It has applied to the High Court for permission to seek a judicial review of his inspector’s decision and a judge will consider the application in the next few weeks.
Council leader Cllr Julian Daly said: “The council believes the inspector’s conclusion we did not meet the duty to co-operate is flawed.
“We are therefore seeking a judicial review of the decision and look forward to having our case heard.
“However, we remain committed to meeting with the councils which raised concerns so we can understand and address their positions.
“I will continue to work closely with the other parties’ spokespeople in the development of the council’s approach.”
The SLP sets out policies on development in St Albans until 2031, identifying land for new housing, infrastructure, commerce, industry and social amenities.
It was produced following two intensive public consultations.”