Central Bedfordshire latest to stop local plan work amid national planning policy uncertainty

Central Bedfordshire council has put a promised review of its nearly 2,000 homes-a-year local plan indefinitely on hold, citing factors including the government’s decision to reform planning rules.


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More than a dozen authorities have paused local plan work since Michael Gove made a deal with Tory planning rebels

The decision makes the South east authority the latest to put local plan formation work on hold at least in part due to Michael Gove’s planning reforms, with more than a dozen councils now delaying work since the housing secretary backed down on housing targets in the face of backbench Tory rebels in December.

It comes as both Cotswold and Gravesham authorities have also revealed they have put back their plan-making timetables, though neither have explicitly linked their decisions to the government’s proposed reforms.

Central Bedfordshire said in a paper published on its website last month that a review to update its local plan, promised as part of the adoption of its existing plan in 2021, had been started but that a number of factors “outside of the council’s control” meant that “it would currently be premature to conclude the review and recommend options on any update that might be required to the Local Plan.”

It said these factors included necessary decisions on the future of the East-West rail link, but also “on the reform of the planning system and changes to national planning policy [which] have been delayed”. It added “there is no certainty as to when any of these decisions will be made.”

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The council paper stated explicitly that the planning reofrms delaying progress included both the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, currently in the Lords, which it said will “significantly impact on the preparation of a new or updated Local Plan”, as well as the “further updates to the NPPF” that were proposed following Gove’s climbdown on housing targets in December.

The council said the proposals, contained in the NPPF consultation, for new National Development Management Policies, which will require further consultation, were “the most significant”.

The council gave no firm timetable for when it will conclude its review of its local plan, which includes plans for 39,350 homes over 20 years, other than saying it will re-address these issues once “key decisions” have been taken. It concluded: “Whilst good progress has been made on the review, it would be premature to conclude the review in the absence of key decisions on critical infrastructure including East West Rail, and future updates to national policy and plan making.

“Once there is more certainty around these issues, the review process can be completed. […] In the meantime, the plan review process remains ongoing”.

Welwyn Hatfield green field green belt

The news comes as it emerged that Cotswold council has delayed by a year its planned regulation 19 consultation on its local plan update, with the consultation now scheduled for the winter of 2023/24, rather than the fourth quarter of 2022, as previously indicated.

The council didn’t say why it had delayed publication of the consultation, but did refer both to the enormous response to it previous consultation, and to the government’s new proposals to change the planning system. It said: “The consultation proposals would affect plan-making in Cotswold District if they are implemented as proposed”, albeit didn’t make clear how.

Gravesham council has also pushed its regulation 19 local plan consultation to September-October this year, updating its existing timetable which had promised it in 2020. The council blamed the delay on issues related to the Lower Thames Crossing scheme.

According to consultant Lichfields, a total of 47 local authorities have delayed work on their local plans since January last year.