Planning magazine reports that last year Greg Clark took an almost unprecedented step when he intervened in the examination of Maldon District Council's local plan after the council and an inspector had clashed over the document's provision of traveller sites. In a letter last month, Clark said he agreed with the inspector that the council's policy on travellers is "not consistent with national policy". But he disagreed with the inspector's ruling that the plan should therefore be found unsound.
Catriona Riddell, Strategic Planning Subject Specialist for the Planning Officers Society, told Planning that a lot of local authorities are not keen to sort out traveller provision as part of their local plan, adding that "there is concern from inspectors that they're shirking their responsibility". She said she was "absolutely sure the inspector [made his decision] for sound reasons". But, she added: "The government's drive through the planning system to get houses built and get the economy growing is the bigger picture."
Riddell said this ruling, coupled with a recent decision by an inspector who found a plan sound even though it only met 46 per cent the housing need, suggested the emergence of a more pragmatic approach to local plan scrutiny. But she raised concerns about the length of time it took for Clark to reach his decision. "This was one small issue that they had to address and it's taken them months, nearly a year, to do," she said. "That's a bit more worrying than anything else."
She added: "Although there's a lot of concern across the country in terms of local authorities desperately trying to get plans published before the deadline, what it makes clear is that it's actually going to be a very specific few cases that they're going to intervene on because they haven't got the resources to do it, and it's such a minefield politically that I suspect they will pick and choose very carefully."