Wirral MBC is to face government intervention over its “lamentable” failure to draw up a local housing plan.
The council was one of two authorities to receive letters from secretary of state for housing, communities and local government James Brokenshire last week over its failure to draw up an appropriate local plan.
Mr Brokenshire conceded that Wirral was not an area of high housing pressure, but said its failure to plan for and deliver the necessary local housing was clear. Of the 15 authorities threatened with intervention over the issue at the end of 2017, Wirral had made least progress, he said.
“I consider that it would be appropriate to intervene because Wirral’s performance in respect of the other criteria is lamentable,” he said.
In particular, he highlighted the authority’s reliance on policies from nineteen years ago – its last plan was adopted in 2000 – to determine local planning applications.
In the letter, Wirral was told to publish, within the next ten weeks, an action plan setting out how it intended to get a plan in place. It was also instructed to designate a lead councillor and official who would be responsible for the progress of the plan, and to report monthly to the department on its progress.
Wirral would have “a final opportunity to demonstrate a clear path” towards delivery of the plan, said Mr Brokenshire. If the council failed to comply, or if its plan failed its examination, he would be “minded” to take over preparation of the plan.
Wirral leader Phil Davies (Lab), in a letter to the secretary of state, agreed to cooperate with the direction but pointed out that the council had already made progress on many of the points that had been raised, including the appointment of a lead councillor and official, as well as a leading QC to ensure the council complied fully with all local plan legislation.
“It is clear to me that progress is being made, and being made at pace,” he said. “I am confident we have the resources, expertise and capacity in place to deliver a local plan which is appropriate and robust to meet the housing needs of our residents.”
Thanet DC, which had “consistently failed” to comply with the requirement for a local plan, also received a letter from Mr Brokenshire directing it to designate a lead councillor and official within four weeks to take responsibility for preparation of the document.
If it failed to do so, or if its plan did not meet the required standard, further action could be taken against the authority.
“I am also, for the avoidance of doubt, now putting on public record my concerns about the low level of housing supply and delivery in Thanet,” said Mr Brokenshire.
“I expect planning decision-takers to have regard to these concerns as a material consideration when deciding local planning applications.”
A Thanet spokesperson said the council’s local plan was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in October last year.
They added: “The council has reviewed the actions in the secretary of state’s letter and can confirm that arrangements are already in place to meet the majority of requirements set out, any others will be incorporated into our processes without unnecessarily delaying examination of the plan.
”Given this positive progress and constructive dialogue with MHCLG, the council is disappointed that there wasn’t more recognition of this within the letter and will be responding directly to the secretary of state. The council will continue to work positively with MHCLG to progress with its plan.”
Mr Brokenshire is also considering whether to intervene in Castle Point BC.
Former housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid in March last year wrote to Wirral, Thanet and Castlepoint to inform them experts would be sent to work with their officials with a view to possibly getting Essex CC, Kent CC, and Liverpool City Region CA respectively to produce a local plan on their behalf.