Planning for the future?
As a recently elected local councillor to Exeter City Council, I’ve found it to be a real learning curve. Lots of policy documents to read, committee decisions to make and casework from constituents to seek answers for. One moment from a useful training session has stuck with me: when it comes to getting to grips with planning applications and decisions – start with your local plan.
Local plans appear to be the local authority equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge; no sooner do Councils finish the onerous task of drafting and adopting one than it’s time to start consulting on the next one.
Yet an increasing number of local authorities – some 58 as of last month - are pausing or shelving their local plans. This has led to the Housing Minister, Rachel MacLean MP, warning that there will be “consequences” for Councils not continuing with local plans and that it “will not end well for them.” The Minister made these remarks during a sitting of the House of Lords Built Environment Committee last month.
I was interested to learn last week that councillors on Torridge District Council in Devon voted to scrap their local plan and start again, citing the need for something that better fits the needs of residents. The plan was due to run until 2031 and throws into doubt the future development of 17,000 homes.
Councils and the government are acting out the oft-used internet meme of two Spidermen pointing accusingly at each other. Despite the many flaws in the government’s approach, it seems to me as a local councillor that pressing pause on the most important strategic document we work on is a dereliction of duty to those we are elected to represent. It also firmly kicks the housing crisis can down the road, thereby storing up problems for tomorrow.
ocal plans offer us the opportunity to engage with residents across our area and ask the fundamental question of how we see our area developing, and what the challenges and opportunities are. That’s something we’ve been doing in Exeter as part of our Exeter Plan, which is set to run until 2040.
So while it seems unusual for me as a Labour councillor to agree with a Conservative Government Minister, I don’t see how shelving local plans can end well for local planning authorities. Perhaps Councils should take heed of the advice I was given on that training session, and start with their local plan.