Clarification on ‘duty to cooperate’ legislation requested from Secretary of State

Published Wednesday 23 August 2023

Press release

The Leader of Harborough District Council has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to ask for guidance on ‘duty to cooperate’ planning legislation following correspondence from the Harborough constituency MP. 

The duty to cooperate is a legal requirement for local authorities and other bodies. It requires bodies to work together to address planning issues which extend across local authority boundaries.

In letters to Cllr Phil Knowles, Leader of Harborough District Council, over recent months, Neil O’Brien MP has said that legislation he put in place when he was Minister for Levelling Up takes away the need for the council to sign the statement of common ground (an agreement to accommodate unmet need in neighbouring authorities) as the duty to cooperate no longer exists. However, council officers’ understanding is that until new legislation is in place, the duty to co-operate remains and that any local plans submitted before June 2025 are judged under the old guidance and regulations. In addition, outside of the legal duty to cooperate, current government policy also means that any unmet housing needs in one local authority area should be met in neighbouring areas.

In his letter to Rt. Hon. Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, council leader Cllr Phil Knowles, said: “I would ask that you urgently clarify the government’s position on the legal requirements to comply with the duty to cooperate and your policy position on the unmet need of neighbouring authorities and our obligation to accommodate this where possible for plans that are being worked on now, whether or not they might be submitted prior to June 2025. 

“My council is to make a decision on whether to sign the Statement of Common Ground on 18 September 2023 and so your urgent attention to this would be appreciated. This is a key milestone in the production of our local plan and any further delays could result in significant planning consequences for my district, which I wish to avoid at all costs and I am sure you will agree having an up to date local plan in place as soon as possible is essential. Simply put Mr Gove which of the two advice streams would you follow? 

“The clarity on this position will not only help my council in its decision but also make the position clear for authorities across Leicestershire.”

Signing the Statement of Common Ground would accept testing delivery of a small proportion of Leicester City’s housing need through the next Harborough local plan.

The leader has requested a meeting with Secretary of State Michael Gove and relevant ministers to resolve the matter at the earliest possible date.