Monitoring Ealing’s Local Plan: Planning Department Too Busy to Bother

posted in: All areas | 0
How many more excuses?

We wrote last Spring about Local Plans, why they are important and how Ealing Council is failing its residents in not having updated its Plan. 

The time frame covered by a Local Plan is 10-15 years, but with the world changing so quickly, it needs to be reviewed and updated regularly. To this end, boroughs are required to report at least annually on the implementation and effectiveness of their Local Plan through what is called the Authority Monitoring Report (AMR). This should be made available to the public. 

Ealing Council has failed to produce a single AMR since 2013/14, despite it being a legal requirement. Members of the public have submitted at least 22 requests (including Freedom of Information and internal review requests) for this information since September 2016. These have been variously directed at: 

  • Councillor Julian Bell, the Leader of the Council
  • Paul Najsarek, the Chief Executive
  • the Council’s Cabinet
  • the Local Development Plan Advisory Committee and 
  • the Overview and Scrutiny Committee. 

All to no avail.

These requests were passed either to the Planning Department or to Corporate Information Governance, which between them have offered a variety of excuses for not delivering timely AMRs:

  • Responses to early requests explained that the number of planning policy specialists in the Planning Department had been reduced. In that context the claim was that ‘more pressing areas of work (than AMRs) have had to take priority, and accordingly we have had to push back the publication of a new AMR. With limited resources we do have prioritise our time on those aspects of monitoring which serve us best in terms of the work we do as plan makers’. This ignores the need for a regular evaluation of the Plan outlined above and the fact that AMRs are a statutory requirement. Moreover, Ealing has recently been on a recruitment drive for planners, so this can no longer account for the continuing delays.
  • The fact that the Government’s Guidance on plan-making (Paragraph: 073) states that AMRs are required at least annually appears at best to be misunderstood. In September 2016 the Strategic Planning Manager declared: ‘I have determined that the AMR will be produced bi-annually’.  And in October 2017, the Corporate Information Governance Manager wrongly claimed that ‘the regulations would therefore permit us to wait a number of years before we publish our monitoring reports.’
  • The latest excuse is that since the AMR will now contain data up to March 2020, ‘technical issues relating to access to the London Development Database (have) necessitated many of the background reports being collected and analysed manually…. Furthermore, changing requirements by Government as to the targets that we are supposed to report on have changed several times particularly over the course of the past 12 months….’ This does not explain why the AMRs for the preceding years, where the automated LDD wasn’t an issue, have not been produced. Nor does it explain why reports on the implementation of other parts of the local plan could not be published.

Many of the responses received have invited members of the public to forward specific questions they are interested in.  This misses the point. AMRs are supposed to be produced by the planning authority as part of their planning duties and then published for the public to comment on if they wish. Besides, the Local Plan covers multiple facets of spatial planning, which need to be considered in the round – the very reason why plan reviews are required!

To set Ealing’s performance on AMRs in context, the borough compares very badly with the rest of London. 25 out of the 33 boroughs have produced AMRs covering 2018/19 (and previous years), while six have already covered 2019/20.

We have to ask, therefore, why, despite its failure to comply with Local Plan regulations and despite repeated requests from members of the public, Ealing’s Planning Department has not been censured by the Chief Executive or the Council’s political leaders for its failure to deliver. We are trying one last time to secure a response from LBE. If we do not receive an unequivocal response we intend to appeal for higher level Government to intervene.