Surrey Heath among two more councils to pause local plan progress citing NPPF reforms

Michael Gove’s own constituency local authority has become one of two further councils to have delayed progress on its local plan in the light of the planning reforms proposed by the housing secretary before Christmas.

michael gove

Michael Gove agreed the new planning rules with backbench rebels on December 6 last year

Gove’s Surrey Heath local authority and East Devon councils have both delayed local plan work citing the government’s plans to reform national planning policy in a way that will potentially allow many councils to avoid planning to meet calculated local housing need.

The news follows a raft of other local authorities to have delayed plans in the wake of the housing secretary’s climbdown over planning rules for housing, including Stockport, West Suffolk, Horsham, Isle of Wight, Mole Valley and South Staffordshire.

Surrey Heath said in a statement on its website that it is planning to publish a further version of its draft plan for consultation “later in the year” in order to “take into account recent Government proposals about important changes to the national rules governing Local Plans.”

Previously Surrey Heath, where Gove is the MP, had said it planned to consult on a “pre-submission” draft of its 5,680-home 19-year plan in January or February this year. The draft plan was equivalent to producing just under 300 homes per year.

>>See also: Updated list of councils to have delayed plan-making since Gove’s targets U-turn

Announcing the change in the timetable, the statement on the website pointed out that the proposed national policy changes were “intended to give Councils more flexibility in determining the number of new homes and the locations that are right for a borough like Surrey Heath and provide even greater protection for our highly valued Green Belt”.

Surrey Heath sits in the heart of the Metropolitan green belt, with 44% of the district covered by the designation. Gove’s NPPF policy changes, proposed following a backroom deal with anti-development backbench Tory MPs, include a proposal making it clear that councils will not be required by policy to review their green belt land in order to meet housing need.

The statement said a precise timetable for the new draft will be decided at a council meeting in March.

The Surrey Heath statement came as East Devon council leader Paul Arnott last week put work finding sites for his district’s plan “on hold” until the government review of the NPPF was concluded and decided.

He said he hoped that after the government’s review of policy was concluded, the council will be able to “greatly reduce” the 20,441 homes currently proposed in its draft plan between 2020 and 2040.

>> See also Gove’s retreat into nimbysim spells political trouble for the Tories

>> See also: The Gove who stole Christmas: Why planning backdown will have a huge impact

>> See also: Warning of ‘complete collapse’ in local plan-making after Gove reform announcement

The council said in a statement dated February 15 that technical work by officers to support production of the Local Plan, such as water, sewerage and other environmental matters, would continue, but that no further discussion or decision on potential sites would take place “until the Government makes its decision”.

Councillor Paul Arnott, leader of the council, said: “This week - at the first opportunity to do so - I proposed that we put the sites aspect of the work on hold until what we hope will be confirmation that our housing numbers will be greatly reduced.

“I was very pleased that this won cross-party support. The ball is now in the Government’s court to deliver a new National Planning Policy Framework.”

The decisions by these councils follow predictions by developers that the proposals from Gove would throw the plan-making system into chaos, with local authorities seeking to take advantage of the new rules and reduce their housing requirements.