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Michael Gove threatens to intervene in Medway Council’s planning policies

Cabinet heavyweight Michael Gove has threatened to intervene in Medway Council’s housing proposals if the authority doesn't give a firm building plan.

The top Tory called Medway out earlier today as one of seven authorities he labelled “the worst” in terms of plan-making.

Housing Secretary Michael Gove will give a speech on planning Picture: James Manning/PA
Housing Secretary Michael Gove will give a speech on planning Picture: James Manning/PA

In a speech outlining long-term housing plans for the Department of Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, Mr Gove said he was going to take action on “underperformers” who were not delivering on housing.

He said: “Where there has been and is consistent underperformance, I will act.

“I’m taking steps to deal with underperformers in the planning system, and there is no greater failure than the failure to actually have a plan in place.

“That is why I am issuing a direction to seven of the worst authorities in terms of plan making, who have failed not just to adopt a plan, but even to submit one to examination since 2004.”

Mr Gove’s list includes Medway, St Albans, Amber Valley, Ashfield, Uttlesford, Basildon, and Castle Point.

Council leader Cllr Vince Maple
Council leader Cllr Vince Maple

These councils have just 12 weeks, he said, to provide his department with a housing plan timetable and threatened further central government intervention if they didn’t.

Medway is currently working on its local plan, after the previous administration’s attempt fell apart due to disputes within the Conservative group about which areas to designate as housing and the future of Chatham Docks.

When Labour took control in May, it said delivering a local plan was a key priority with designs being prepared for consultation in the spring.

It has been approached for comment about Mr Gove’s remarks.

Meanwhile, Medway Council leader Cllr Vince Maple tweeted he had not received any prior notice to the announcement and said a response would be provided before Christmas.

He also said the failure to provide a local plan was the fault of the previous Tory administration and under Labour significant progress had been made.

He said: “It is very disappointing this was tweeted hours before Michael Gove actually wrote to me. There will be a response sent before Christmas.

“In that response I will be clear on which party was running the council from May 2003 to May 2023 and the progress made since then.

“This includes completing a consultation since May. What doesn’t help this process is the withdrawal of the £170 million HIF.

“When this happened no government minister took up my repeated offers to meet. I will be inviting Michael Gove to come to Medway to discuss this.”

He told the LDRS: "It’s particularly disrespectful to be tweeting about Medway council before formally writing to us and actually before mentioning it in parliament.

"Looking at what he has written through his statement, he’s obviously not seen the news of May the fourth.

"In Medway we have got a new team at the top and we are working incredibly hard. We have already delivered a consultation, and fully completed regulation 18.

“We are getting to work in a way that his own colleagues, including two members of parliament, both of whom served in the cabinet under the Conservatives leadership, failed to do over the 20 years of Conservative administration.”

The Labour leader, whose party took over control of the administration at the local elections in May, added: "We are getting on with the job”.

He also said he would invited Mr Gove down to Medway.

“I I want him to come. I want him to see first hand what we are doing, to speak with hard working officers,” cllr Maple said.

"Today's intervention is unhelpful. It won’t do anything to help us move forward. We are getting on with the work the people of Mddway tasked us to do. We will do that regardless of what the secretary of state says.

"I have no idea what Michael Gove is thinking about just handful of days before Christmas maybe he's using this to distract from his inbox which will be full of council leaders and council finance officers saying that his local government settlement has done nothing for them."

In his speech, Mr Gove also said he was going to name and shame councils which were too slow in dealing with planning applications, and housing targets would be revised.

Similarly, he said that developments could be resisted if they didn’t fit within an area’s character, harms the environment, or if there is not infrastructure sufficient to support it - a change which some say effectively relaxes housing targets.

He also said that two councils, Chorley and Fareham, could be bypassed by developers, which will now be able to apply directly to the government’s planning inspectorate for permission to build.

This comes after speculation of watering down of housing targets in order to appease Tory backbench MPs.

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