The County Councils Network (CCN) has said it supports proposals to allow counties to draw up Local Plans on a case-by-case basis, where district councils have not done so, but district councils remain opposed.
A ministerial amendment to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill would allow the communities secretary to invite county councils to become involved in local plans, which outline development policy for an area, including drawing plans up where a district council has not done so.
Individual county councils have been quoted in media reports as saying that they do not currently have the resources to take on this role.
A spokesman for CCN told Transport Network that the organisation ‘broadly welcomes’ the ministerial amendments to the Bill.
The spokesman said: ‘The option to allow county councils to deliver plans where districts are unable to keeps decisions as close to people as possible, and means that we retain a plan-led system with local people and their elected representatives deciding where development should happen.
‘The amendment allows the secretary of state to invite county councils to take on plans; it will not impose options on the area, and will allow for county councils to consider their capacity and appropriateness to take on this responsibility in each case, in conversation with their local partners.’
The spokesman pointed out that county councils already have experience in planning, including minerals and waste applications, and are responsible for infrastructure, ‘which supports development and is vital to expediting plans’.
‘CCN and our members will be working with DCLG to consider how to build on these skills and potentially expand capacity and resourcing if and where needed,’ the spokesman added.
In August, Transport Network reported that, with a significant number of districts not having adopted Local Plans, the District Councils’ Network (DCN) had scheduled talks with ministers to discuss the threat of planning powers being taken out of local hands.
Responding to the recent amendments to the Bill, Cllr Gillian Brown, the DCN’s planning and growth lead member, said: ‘The DCN has concerns around New Clause 5 which would give the secretary of state powers to intervene and ask a county council to prepare or revise existing Local Plans.
‘County councils do not have the local planning expertise required to discharge this proposed function – which could lead to increased delays in the overall Local Plan process, in direct contrast to the Government intention.
‘District councils have made significant progress with plan-making, and getting plans in place requires significant time, effort and expenditure.'
She added: ‘The DCN recognises that there are still some districts who are yet to agree a Local Plan and would recommend that peer support from districts that have successfully adopted a Local Plan could be requested by the secretary of state, to fulfil the need for adopted plans across the country.’
In a parliamentary answer earlier this month, housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell said that 244 Local Plans had been adopted. There are over 300 planning authorities in England.