North Hertfordshire Local Plan hearings may not happen ‘until the end of the year’

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. PA Wire

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick. PA Wire - Credit: PA

North Hertfordshire residents may have to wait until the end of the year before the delayed Local Plan hearing sessions can be rearranged, it has emerged.

Dates for the new hearings were set for March and April but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the inspector to postpone – further halting a long schedule of delays and setbacks, dating back three years.

District council officers have said it has “not been possible to identify alternate dates” at this stage, but confirmed there is an “ongoing dialogue with the inspector.”

Councillor Paul Clark, NHDC’s deputy leader and executive member for planning and transport, has written to Secretary of State Robert Jenrick MP, calling on dates for new hearings as a matter of “highest priority.”

The Planning Inspectorate has recently published guidance encouraging the use of technology, and it is understood hearings proposed for South Oxfordshire in July 2020 will act as a pilot for other local authorities.

District council officers have said they are “committed to completing the examination at the earliest opportunity once circumstances allow.”

Councillors have also accepted that “the shutdown of the construction industry” due to COVID-19 may yet further impact the council’s ability to deliver new homes and meet targets set out in its Housing Delivery Action Plan.

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In a letter to Robert Jenrick MP, Cllr Clark said: “More than 80 plans have been submitted for examination and subsequently found sound since the start of 2016. The average length of these examinations is 15 months. Our examination is entering its 37th month.

“Following your recent announcement urging the the use of digital technologies to drive the planning system forward, it is imperative that North Hertfordshire’s Local Plan Examination is progressed to its conclusion as soon as is practicable – so this authority can turn its focus to meeting the needs of its residents, and assisting in the post-COVID recovery.

“We would welcome your reassurance that you are aware of our own circumstances and see the progression and conclusion of our own examination as an equally high priority.”