Michael Gove has singled out St Albans as one of the seven worst authorities for plan-making in the country.
The levelling up secretary has said the Hertfordshire city and district council must send him a local plan timetable within the next 12 months, setting out when councillors can expect to adopt a new set of housebuilding policies.
But St Albans City and District Council has had a timetable in place for more than a year and is on track to formally adopt a new set of planning rules in 2025. In a speech at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London, Mr Gove threatened to intervene “to ensure that a plan is put in place” if the seven authorities fail to send his department a timetable.
St Albans City and District Council leader Cllr Chris White (LD, Clarence) described the comments as “crass”.
He said Mr Gove had launched a “campaign for a general election”.
Cllr White told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We are going as fast as we can.
“It’s all part of a system and there are things we have to do by law.
“Once it is done, it will go to the inspectors who will check it through.
“We have to go through all the steps without rushing it.”
St Albans City and District Council held a first-stage statutory consultation, known as a Regulation 18 consultation, over the summer. Councillors debated the initial findings on Tuesday, November 14. The “quick survey” with 1,057 responses found protecting historic buildings, wildlife sites and areas of natural beauty was the top key issue.
Infrastructure ranked second, above “tackling climate change”, “building the right kind of homes to meet local needs” and “providing local jobs for residents”.
Officers are analysing technical responses to the consultation.
According to the latest work programme, approved on Tuesday, December 12, councillors are due to consider the final-stage Regulation 19 consultation in September 2024. This is in line with a timetable agreed at a meeting in September 2022.
It sets December 2024 as the month when council planners will send their draft local plan to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – which will be reviewed by a government-appointed planning inspector.
St Albans has one of the oldest local plans in the country, with a set of rules which date back to 1994.
Cllr White has led the authority since 2019. When asked what makes his administration different to previous ones, he said: “We used to have councillors sparring with each other in the chamber.
“Sometimes, we would spend hours going through meeting minutes.
“We got the Local Government Association in to review our meetings.
“We’ve now stopped doing political back-and-forth, because the local plan is a technical exercise.”
The St Albans Local Plan will set aside space for more than 11,000 new homes in the district by 2041, along with a “wish list” for new infrastructure such as roads, schools and health centres which developers should provide if they are to secure planning permission for their schemes.
Cllr White said Mr Gove “should wake up” to residents’ interests in infrastructure over their interest in housing or economic growth. The council leader said his authority does not have the funding to build and provide new social housing, leisure venues and services during periods of high inflation.
The other areas which Mr Gove named were Amber Valley in Derbyshire, Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, Medway in Kent, and Uttlesford, Basildon and Castle Point, all in Essex.
In his speech on Tuesday, December 19, he said: “Where there is and has been consistent underperformance, I will act.
“I am taking steps to deal with underperformers in the planning system, and there is no greater failure than to actually have a plan in place.”
Mr Gove said the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities must receive local plan timetables within 12 weeks. “I will consider further intervention to ensure a plan is put in place,” he said.