Back to the drawing board for St Albans


by Michael HardwareDirector of Planning and Property 

In the latest instalment on the saga of the St Albans Local plan the inspectors have written to the council detailing why the Examination in Public was suspended and it does not make good reading.

The council has the second-oldest local plan in the country, and this is the second attempt to create a sound local plan. The first one ending in acrimony with the previous administration taking the Secretary of State to the High Court in a failed attempt to overturn the previous inspector’s findings.

Current inspectors Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington stopped the EiP in January. They cancelled the following sessions in February expressing “serious concerns in terms of legal compliance and soundness” of the plan.

In a letter late last week, the inspectors gave more detail about their concerns. Although stressing that they had yet to make their final decision, the concerns were damning:

  • Failure to engage constructively and actively with neighbouring authorities on the strategic matters of (a) the Radlett Strategic Rail Freight Interchange proposal and (b) their ability to accommodate St Alban’s housing needs outside of the Green Belt;
  • Plan preparation not in accordance with the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement;
  • Inadequate evidence to support the Council’s contention that exceptional circumstances exist to alter the boundaries of the Green Belt;
  • Failure of the Sustainability Appraisal to consider some seemingly credible and obvious reasonable alternatives to the policies and proposals of the plan;
  • Failure of the plan to meet objectively-assessed needs; and
  • Absence of key pieces of supporting evidence for the plan.

The failure to engage with neighbours is a reoccurring theme: this was the main reason why the last local plan failed.

Although the council has not been invited to withdraw the plan, it must only be a matter of time. The amount of modification needed to reverse the soundness of this plan would mean, in effect, re-writing it. It is fairly clear that the council is going to have to go back to the drawing board.

The current LibDem administration will not be wholly upset about that. It was ‘saddled’ with the plan when it took over the council last May from the Conservatives. The current plan does not meet many of their policies, such as housing for younger generations, greater affordable provision and more social housing, so this is a huge opportunity for them to put their mark.

The delay of this year’s local elections will help them do that. There was a clear danger that the Conservatives would have taken the council back, building on the general election success and the popularity of Boris Johnston. The LibDems have a at least a further year in power in which to progress a new local plan.