Mole Valley District Council offices

Minister gets heavy on a Local Plan delay


A Surrey borough where the house prices are “amongst the highest in England” has been ordered not to delay its home building programme. The Epsom and Ewell neighbour borough of Mole Valley District Council was ready to pull the plug on its planning bible – which sets out the development it would allow to meet its housing targets.

The council was to debate informing the planning inspector of its decision to withdraw its draft local plan but a last minute intervention by the Department of Levelling up, Housing and Communities has ruled this out. Instead the council agreed to continue working to set out clear guidelines for developers.

In a letter to the council outlining his decision, Lee Rowley, Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, said: “I am writing to you over concerns that Mole Valley District Council may withdraw the emerging local plan from examination. The Government is clear that local plans are at the heart of the planning system, and it is essential that up-to-date plans are in place and are kept up to date.”

He said: “Each local planning authority must identify the strategic priorities for the development and use of land in the authority’s area, and policies to address those priorities must be set out in the local planning authority’s development plan documents such as the local plan.”

The last time the council had an up-to-date plan was in 2009 and work on its replacement has begun in earnest. Withdrawing now, Mr Rowley said would extend the council’s time in limbo. He said: “Withdrawing the plan from examination would be a clear failure by the council.”

Since Mole Valley District Council’s last masterplan, more than 90 per cent of all English local authority plans have been updated – pulling out now would leave the borough with “one of the oldest adopted local plans in the country”. It has left the council operating under out-of-date policies, given the amount of change in the 14 years since it was adopted.

Mr Rowley added: “Housing affordability is a significant problem in Mole Valley and the ratio of average house prices to average wages is amongst the highest in England. I can therefore conclude that there is higher housing pressure. Considering the average time taken to prepare a local plan is seven years and we are approaching the phased introduction of a new planning system, withdrawing the plan at this stage could only lead to significant further delay whilst a new plan is prepared. Intervening would therefore accelerate plan production given the current plan is submitted and at examination.”

The order to proceed with the plan will remain in force until formally withdrawn by the secretary of state.

Councillor Margaret Cooksey, Cabinet Member for Planning said: “The Minister of State for Housing, Planning and Building Safety has today [January 25] issued Mole Valley District Council with a direction not to withdraw its local plan from the examination-in-public at the Council meeting tonight. Previous to the new direction, three options had been available to MVDC:  Withdrawal of the plan; continuation of the plan, as submitted (including Green Belt sites); request that the planning Inspector change the plan to remove all Green Belt sites.

“This new direction takes option A away from us and requires Mole Valley District Council to report monthly to the Minister’s officials on the progress of the examination. It will remain in force until the examination concludes with the Inspector’s report.”

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