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Barwell says reform will see fewer plans rejected

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Councils will see fewer local plans thrown out by planning inspectors when the new ‘statements of common ground’ take effect, housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell has said.

The statements are intended to show how neighbouring councils will collaborate to meet housing need.

This month’s housing white paper said they would replace the widely criticised ‘duty to co-operate’, but gave few details.

The duty was supposed to encourage councils to jointly meet housing demand, for example where rural areas hem in a council with a tight urban boundary.

But it lacked force where councils declined to collaborate, meaning plans developed at substantial cost could be thrown out by an inspector at the outset of an inquiry for failing to demonstrate co-operation.

Appearing before the communities and local government select committee, Mr Barwell said: “The problem with the duty to co-operate was that at the point at which an authority submits its whole plan for examination if it fails over the duty to co-operate its back to square one.

“We want to make the statements of common ground a first step, and have some way of looking at that before you go out to do the detailed work.

“Councils should think about right economic geography to work across - they will understand that better than I do - and there is merit in looking along functional transport corridors often associated with major infrastructure.”

He said the duty to co-operate had not worked well, leading to too many cases where “authority A says ‘my need is 1,000 homes and I can only do 400’ and those 600 are slipping through the net, and we can’t let that happen”.

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