The guest of Chelgate’s third live planning event was Cllr Chis White, leader of St Albans District Council. He gave an update on the council’s emerging local plan and what it is doing to keep planning going. Despite referring to the Inspector’s report as ‘rude’, he stated that there is no intention of taking legal action to contest their findings.
St Albans Council, which has the second oldest local plan in the country, was recently received a critical letter from the inspectors expressing serious concerns in terms of legal compliance and soundness of the plan.
Cllr White remarked on the plan not being a great one to inherit (from the previous Conservative administration) but he intends to ‘get on with it’. Being a minority administration, he will hold discussions with other group leaders to discuss the council’s position. The Inspectors can expect a response to their letter in the next few weeks.
As the council has not been invited to withdraw the plan yet, the current assumption is that they will be able to amend it. Cllr White said that the council is prepared to provide all the necessary reviews and evidence to continue with this plan. His wish is for the process moving forward being better resources, less focused on detail and without political interference.
The huge amount of work that awaits might, however, be slowed down by the financial issues that councils are facing due to the coronavirus pandemic. The increased spending which was required to put in place protection measures against the virus is not being compensated by the government, putting councils in a tough spot. With further loss of income from usual sources, such as parking and leisure, St Albans is having to make budget cutbacks, reducing operations to statutory services.
Despite some staff being redeployed to coronavirus-related activities, the planning department at St Albans remains open to business. They have noticed a fewer number of small applications coming forward and are currently dealing with the pre-pandemic backlog. With the government encouraging the housing sector to carry on with their activities, the council is open and prepared for sites coming forward in the next months. Meetings will take place virtually and robust contactless consultation will be an acceptable form of engagement.
We at Chelgate Local have prepared a comprehensive contactless consultation package to help keep the planning process moving in these extraordinary times. If you would like to hear more about our solutions or discuss the measures the councils are taking to keep the planning wheels turning, please get in touch with us today!
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