Spelthorne Council has accused the government of planning “chaos” after minister blocked alleged attempt to withdraw draft plan
The leader of a Surrey council has written a strongly-worded letter to housing minister Rachel Maclean after she used her powers to block the withdrawal of its local plan.
Cllr Joanne Sexton, Spelthorne Borough Council’s independent group leader, has written to Maclean describing her intervention as “unreasonable and unacceptable” and highlighting the “chaos and mixed messaging” in government over housing policy.
The councillor’s letter follows a letter from Maclean to the council last week exercising the levelling up secretary’s intervention powers under section 27 of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Act to order Spelthorne not to withdraw its local plan.
In June, Spelthorne paused the preparation of its draft local plan, which had been proposing the release of almost 25 hectares of green belt land to deliver over 9,000 homes, after the Conservatives lost control of the council. It voted for a three month pause to draft the plan to allow newly-elected members to “fully” understand the plan’s proposals.
Maclean’s letter, which arrived just hours before an extraordinary council meeting on 14 September, pointed out that the last Spelthorne local plan was adopted in 2009 and “should have been reviewed and updated many years ago.” She directed the council “not to take any step to withdraw the plan from examination and report monthly (from the date of this letter) to officials on the progress with the examination.”
During the extraordinary council meeting councillors voted to “extend the pause in the examination timetable until the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) have been published (expected in the autumn)”. On Friday, the planning inspector wrote to Spelthorne agreeing to an extension of the pause.
Sexton’s defiant response to Maclean’s intervention highlights the delay in the revised NPPF and accuses the minister of regarding “any council that wishes to take control of their skyline or presumably local plan” as “so called ‘NIMBYS’.”
She writes: “Like most councils, we have been waiting on the updated NPPF since it was promised in May 2023 and there is still no definitive timeline for its publication. Your own Planning Inspectorate has already agreed to pause other examinations (e.g. Mole Valley and Solihull) for exactly this reason.”
Her letter also referred to a list of 64 councils with local plans that are more than a decade old and pointed out that the housing secretary didn’t intervene when Basildon and Castle Point withdrew their local plans last year.
She claimed “many of [the listed councils] have a worse land supply position than Spelthorne” and asked the minister what she intended to do about those local planning authorities. She added “Can you please confirm that you were mistaken in your latest letter when you stated that ‘If the council [Spelthorne] withdraws the plan, it would be left with one of the oldest adopted local plans in the country?’ If you concede this point, does it follow that you should rescind the intervention or is it your intention to intervene in the other councils with plans older than 2009?”
Sexton concludes her letter referring to Maclean’s re-tweet of a post by Guido Fawkes on the social media platform X (pictured, left), writing: “One could infer from this re-tweet that you are stating that any council that wishes to take control of their skyline or presumably Local Plan are so called “NIMBYS.” Do you believe, in light of the comments you made in your April letter regarding councils taking control, that such authorities are “NIMBYS”?”
She continues: “Our role, as the democratically elected local representatives, is to marry-up national planning policy requirements with those of our communities. Up until now, the council has not been allowed to do this, and just when we feel that the government is finally on our side and recognising the value of good place-making, delivering beautiful places and with local communities at the heart of the process, our ability to respond has been taken away from us. This is not Localism. This is not local democracy.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment.