Sophie Stone, in our leading Planning & Environmental law team, provides a further update on South Oxfordshire District Council's Local Plan.
The Emerging Local Plan came into question after the local elections were held last May. Formerly the Conservatives held a majority in the District but this was replaced by a coalition of Liberal Democrats and Green Party. The newly elected coalition was opposed to the level of housing growth set out in the Local Plan. In October 2019 it was recommended that the Council withdraw the Emerging Local Plan from examination.
In response to that recommendation the Secretary of State issued a holding direction under the powers set out in Section 21A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004, this direction stopped South Oxfordshire District Council (“SODC”) from taking any further decisions in relation to the Local Plan until such time as the Direction was withdrawn or a further direction was made under Section 21 of the 2004 Act. SODC were due to hold a final vote on the withdrawal of the Emerging Local Plan 24 hours after the Secretary of State made the direction.
In early 2020 the Secretary of State confirmed to SODC that he was considering issuing a direction under the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 to order Oxfordshire County Council (“OCC”) to prepare the Local Plan. OCC confirmed that it would accept such an invitation from the Secretary of State should it arise and would prepare the Emerging Local Plan on behalf of SODC.
On 3 March 2020 the Housing Secretary of State Robert Jenrick wrote to SODC to confirm that he has withdrawn his original Direction and instead has made a further a Direction allowing SODC to progress the examination of the Emerging Local Plan (and to adopt it by December 2020) and to report monthly on progress.
The Secretary of State’s rationale behind the Direction was that if SODC were to withdraw the current Emerging Local Plan the target adoption date for a new Local Plan would be June 2024. By directing that SODC should adopt the current Emerging Local Plan by December 2020 decreases the plan production time by 3 years and 6 months. Adoption of a different Emerging Local Plan in June 2024 would mean SODC would have the second oldest plan in England.
Robert Jenrick held that SODC were failing to meet certain requirements in devising a new Local Plan, he stated that SODC were failing to address the need to adopt “strategic policies to address the priorities for development and use of land in your area”
The Direction requiring adoption of the Emerging Local Plan by December 2020 will be a challenge for SODC in such a tight timescale. It would have been a landmark decision had the Secretary of State directed OCC to produce the Local Plan on behalf of SODC and could have potentially resulted in legal challenges.
SODC Councillors decided yesterday (5 March) to accept and carry out the Secretary of State’s direction. Some were reluctant to do so but had little choice.
Since SODC first considered withdrawing the Emerging Local Plan there has been concern raised about the loss of the Growth Deal and Housing Infrastructure Fund (circa £433 million pounds) which would help to deliver key infrastructure improvements across the County. The new Direction and the ambition to adopt the Emerging Local Plan by December 2020 should hopefully allay those concerns.
Further intervention will likely take place should SODC fail to comply with the new direction made by the Secretary of State to ensure that SODC have an up-to-date Local plan.
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This article is intended for the use of clients and other interested parties. The information contained in it is believed to be correct at the date of publication, but it is necessarily of a brief and general nature and should not be relied upon as a substitute for specific professional advice.