Planning magazine reported that the amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, introduced by planning minister Gavin Barwell, would enable the secretary of state to direct councils to prepare joint local plans.
Catriona Riddell, strategic planning specialist at the Planning Officers Society, said that the direction signals that the government wants all councils to pursue joint plans - even where there are no cross-boundary disputes - unless there are particular reasons not to. "It is a recognition that we need more effective strategic planning and that the duty to co-operate is not working," she said. "But the government doesn't want to throw the whole system into the air again, so they are seeing how they can do better using the current system, and saying that they want more joint plans."
Riddell predicted that the government would support moves towards joint plans, even in the context of the fast-approaching 2017 deadline for preparing plans. "I'm not sure if they will revise the deadline, but I think that they will look favourably on local authorities preparing plans on a joint basis, particularly where there has been a dispute about housing or green belt issues," she said.
Steve Ingram, te POS Senior Vice President and strategic director of development and growth at South Kesteven District Council, said that he would expect "very limited use" of the power by the secretary of state, but that it could prove a useful tool where there is a lack of agreement to work together. "Some form of direction to work together for the greater good could be useful," he said. "But you'd hope it wouldn't come to that - it should be logical to work together."
A separate amendment introduced by Barwell that would enable the government to invite a county councils to "prepare, revise or adopt" a plan where it is considered that a district council in its area has failed to do so. Riddell suggested that the move was designed "to cover all bases", as the Housing and Planning Act had already set out similar powers for combined authorities. She said that the latest move was designed to mirror those arrangements elsewhere.
Catriona Riddell Steve Ingram