Stockport and Mole Valley the latest to pause work citing deal with Tory rebels weakening requirement for new homes

Two more councils have delayed work on their local plans following Michael Gove’s pre-Christmas climbdown over planning rules in the face of a backbench Tory rebellion.

Stockport, a Greater Manchester metropolitan authority, and Mole Valley, a district council in Surrey, both issued statements shortly before the end of the year making clear they were pausing work on their schemes because of the housing secretary’s U-turn over planning policy.

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Gove’s deal with Tory rebels has now been cited by four councils delaying work on plans

The news comes after Housing Today revealed in December that Horsham and Teignbridge councils had also delayed work on their plans, citing Gove’s climbdown over housing numbers.

On December 6 Gove announced that he had reached a compromise agreement with backbench rebels who had received widespread support for their series of amendments to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill. They were calling for the abolition of “mandatory” housing targets.

The deal, the substance of which was cemented in a consultation on national planning policy issued on December 22, retained nationally-set local housing targets, but made clear that councils would be given leeway not to meet the targets, including in green belt areas.

Under a proposed “transition” period, councils are to be given a two-year grace period to review existing draft plans to adopt the new policies, in which they are partially protected from speculative applications – something the Home Builders’ Federation said will lead to a “complete collapse” in local plan-making.

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Mole Valley council said on December 13 that it was pausing work on its 353 homes-per-year Future Mole Valley plan “in light of recent announcements by the government”, despite the fact the plan has already been submitted for examination by a plan inspector.

Councillor Margaret Cooksey, cabinet member for planning, said Gove’s announcements had “given us cause to consider and driven our decision to inform the Inspector in charge of the local plan examination that we wish to put a pause to proceedings until we better understand what the government is saying”.

She added: “This decision has not been taken lightly and, given the very encouraging progress made during an exhaustive examination of the plan between January and October this year, pausing this progression is not what we would otherwise want to do.

“However, it would be unwise to carry on when we are not sure what the wider national planning policy situation is so we have committed to wait until such time that the Inspector can advise us on what should be done next.

“We had been due to consult with stakeholders on the modifications proposed by us and the Inspector in January. We remain hopeful that clarity will be provided and we will take the best course of action for our residents.”

Mole Valley’s statement came shortly before Lib Dem-controlled Stockport council also said it had taken the decision to “defer the planned consultation on our local plan following the publication of the ministerial statement issued on December 6” given that it “proposes among other things significant changes to the way in which we need to consider housing targets for local areas and in particular the protection of green belt”.

The council said it would wait to consider the consultation on the reforms to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), now published, before deciding on its next course of action. It added: “The decision to defer is not one that has been taken lightly and legal advice has been taken to inform this decision.”

Stockport’s decision comes after the council, which has draft plans to build 18,600 homes in the area by 2038, withdrew in 2020 from the wider Greater Manchester spatial framework, now known as Places for Everyone, to draw up its own local plan.

It had previously paused work on the plan because of uncertainty over the direction of government planning policy when Liz Truss came into office, but had subsequently said work could continue and prior to Gove’s statement had been planning to go out to consultation on a new draft in January.

The pauses come amid signs of the wider Places for Everyone plan – which envisages building 165,000 homes across the area in the next 15 years – is also being put under pressure by Gove’s climbdown.

In Bury, the Conservative MP James Daly has written to the council demanding that it withdraw from the plan, which has been eight years in the making, in light of Gove’s comments, particularly given the secretary of state’s assertion that green belt releases will not in future be required.

In Rochdale, Conservative councillors tabled a motion demanding the Labour-controlled borough do likewise, which was not accepted. However, an amended motion was voted through which said the borough was open to reviewing its housing allocation if given government assurances over brownfield land funding.

Sam Stafford, planning director at the Home Builders Federation said in a blog yesterday: “The proposals in the consultation are regressive […], the next NPPF will be planning for less housing.”