‘Council not keeping updated on controversial housing plan’

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A campaign group has accused St Helens Council of failing meeting government guidelines on producing clear timelines on how its local plan will be implemented.

The Rainford Action Group (RAG), which opposes the plan’s assertion that hundreds of new homes should be built in Rainford, accuses the council of “failing to provide the public with an updated timetable for its highly controversial development plan”.

A RAG spokesman: “That goes against government recommendations that say councils should inform the public when each stage of a Local Plan will be published, consulted on, and adopted.

“Failure to provide a clear timetable makes it harder for the public to respond.

“Government guidelines say: “Local planning authorities must publicise their intended timetable for producing the Local Plan. This information is contained within a Local Development Scheme, which local planning authorities should publish on their website and must keep up to date.

“Up-to-date and accessible reporting on the Local Development Scheme in an Authority’s Monitoring Report is an important way in which Local Planning Authorities can keep communities informed of plan making activity.

“Consultation on the most recent version of the St Helens plan closed in January. Since then St Helens Council has failed to give any indication of when the next version will be published.

“The council has not even responded to people who took part in the Local Plan consultation held nine months ago, which it must do before the plan can progress.

“The delay means the council is dramatically behind its previously planned schedule. The next version of the Local Plan was supposed to be published in the summer. That deadline has gone but the public have not been told when it has been changed to.

“Campaigners say the delay has been caused by “unprecedented opposition” and that the council has been “simply overwhelmed” by the response from St Helens residents.”

Rainford Action Group, who want to save six big green belt sites in the rural village that have been earmarked for development, say the council needs to be much more “open and transparent”.

James Wright, chairman of Rainford Action Group, said: “Councils have been given clear guidance by the government that they must inform the public about the timings of their Local Plan process. St Helens Council has failed to do this.

“The council appears to be deliberately hiding its timetable. We are calling on them to adopt a much more open and transparent approach so St Helens residents know exactly when they can expect progress on the Local Plan.

“This is a major local issue and people have been kept in the dark for too long.”

The last version of the St Helens Local Plan said at least 1,140 houses should be built on green belt land in Rainford. That would expand the village by a third.

Rainford Action Group say the village can’t cope with expansion on that scale.

Each earmarked site is grade one farmland and currently used to grow food.

Mr Wrightadded: “The St Helens Local Plan is getting further and further behind the council’s original schedule with each passing day.

“The next version should have been published by now. The council should update the public on when we can expect progress rather than leave people in limbo.

“The delay is clearly because the last version of the plan attracted unprecedented opposition and the council has been simply overwhelmed by the response from St Helens residents.

“In Rainford, nearly a thousand people took part in the consultation. That is a clear demonstration of the serious concerns residents of the village have and those concerns must be taken seriously by the council.

“Rainford Action Group has agreed to meet with council officials to discuss the Local Plan process. We’re pleased the council is now willing to engage as previously they had refused to meet us.

“But our message will be clear; we want to see fundamental changes to the St Helens Local Plan.”

The council claims St Helens needs 17,000 new houses in the next 30 years to cope with predicted population growth. Eleven thousand of those extra houses would be built on green belt land.

The Reporter has asked St Helens Council for a response to RAG’s claims but they have so far failed to respond.