You would have thought that by now, after nearly 2 years since the Localism Act and National Planning Policy Framework have been in place, that local planning authorities would have got their act together. However, some local planning authorities are still fighting against the tide by attempting to go solo rather than in tandem with their neighbouring authorities while other local planning authorities are well and truly caught between a rock and a hard place.
Section 110 of the Localism Act sets out the new requirement of a 'duty to co-operate' which applies to all LPAs. The duty requires that where development or use of land would have a significant impact on at least two local planning areas, that those LPAs set out policies to address those issues and to 'engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis' to develop strategic policies. The NPPF sets out the strategic issues where co-operation with neighbouring authorities could be appropriate and states local plans should be 'based on co-operation with neighbouring authorities'. The NPPF addresses the duty of LPAs to co-operate on strategic priorities with the expectation of 'joint working on areas of common interest to be diligently undertaken for the mutual benefit of neighbouring authorities'.
The local plans for Mid-Sussex, Aylesbury Vale, West Dorset and Weymouth and Portland planning authorities have all failed the test. But what happens when there isn't any 'mutual benefit' based on administrative objectives? Take, for example, Luton Borough Council which was branded by Eric Pickles as using 'terror tactics' by trying to 'bully' neighbouring North Hertfordshire council into taking on some of their projected housing requirement. Luton says there is no land within its boundary and neighbouring authorities are unwilling to help. During a House of Commons debate last week Luton South MP Gavin Shuker said that Luton can only build up to 6,000 new homes within the borough but the population demand requires 30,000 new homes to be delivered. So where does this leave those in need of a home?
For a local development plan to be found sound it must satisfy the duty to co-operate, which is not a duty to agree. It is a duty for local development plans to be positively prepared and effective, to be based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities and, according to the inspector's letter on the inadequacies of the Mid-Sussex District Plan 'where appropriate and sustainable, on a strategy which seeks to meet unmet requirements from neighbouring authorities'. Until communities and LPAs are willing to share the burden of releasing land to deliver new homes a large number of our ever increasing population will remain wanting. Perhaps the test should be more than just working 'pro-actively and diligently'. Perhaps neighbouring LPAs should be required to take on some of the burden in order to property satisfy the duty? 'Mutual benefit' must be benefit to the community at large rather than a reflection of administrative boundaries, regardless if this is what some might argue as being contrary to 'localism'.