Rachel Maclean has used powers to direct Spelthorne “not to take any step to withdraw the plan from examination”

Housing minister Rachel Maclean has written to a Surrey council ordering it not to withdraw its emerging local plan from examination. 

Spelthorne paused the preparation of its draft 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 in June. It has been 14 years since Spelthorne Borough Council last adopted a local plan. 

Maclean’s letter exercised the levelling up secretary’s intervention powers under section 27 of the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Act to order Spelthorne not to withdraw its plan. 

rachel maclean

Housing minister Rachel Maclean

“In my role as Minister of State for Housing and Planning, I am writing to you over concerns that Spelthorne Borough Council may withdraw the emerging local plan from examination,” she wrote. 

Her letter pointed out that the last Spelthorne local plan was adopted in 2009 and “should have been reviewed and updated many years ago.” 

Maclean said that the housing secretary, Michael Gove, was directing 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.” 

She adds: “The Secretary of State’s reason for making the direction is to avoid the unnecessary additional delay to having an up-to-date plan in place and additional expense that withdrawing the plan and preparing a new plan would case. 

The letter further warned: “Should a significant delay occur to progressing the examination, and should you fail to comply with the directions in this letter, I will consider taking further intervention action to ensure that an up-to-date local plan is in place.”

The letter states the order will “remain in force until withdrawn by the Secretary of State”.

Spelthorne’s draft local plan, which proposes the release of almost 25 hectares of green belt land for development and proposes the delivery of 9,270 homes by 2037, was submitted to the Secretary of State for examination last November.

Progress was paused on the local plan in June with Spelthorne saying it needed to re-examine the local plan following the loss of 11 Conservative councillors. The makeup of the council is now 12 Conservatives, 10 Liberal Democrats, seven Labour, seven Independent and three Greens.

Following the arrival of the letter, Spelthorne councillors held an extraordinary general meeting where they voted to “Extend the pause in the examination timetable until the proposed changes to the National Planning Policy Framework have been published (expected in the autumn) before determining the next steps and take immediate legal advice to confirm the validity of the minister’s directive.”

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Councillors have written to the planning inspector examining the local plan to request this further delay.

Council leader Joanne Sexton, said: “I understand that emotions are running high in relation to the progress of the Local Plan, and I am disappointed with the government’s late intervention a few hours before the scheduled meeting. This administration will respond to the Government’s letter once we have sought legal advice.

“It is our duty to leave a legacy of thriving communities, not schemes that do not complement our area, and make our Spelthorne better together.  I want to reassure all residents, in the name of local democracy, that this Council will work to ensure we have a Local Plan that works for everyone in our borough.” 


Housing Secretary Michael Gove

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, planning consultant Catriona Riddell, shared screenshots of Maclean’s letter and said: “Perhaps a more constructive and sympathetic approach, offering help, might have been a more effective and welcome approach”.

Maclean’s letter is the first time the government has intervened in the preparation of a local plan since 2019. It follows comments she made in July to a House of Lords committee, warning of “consequences” that will “not end well” for councils who fail to make progress on their local plans.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities declined to comment.