Media briefing: Leicester and Leicestershire Statement of Common Ground (SOCG)Published Wednesday 11 October 2023
This page was updated on 20 November 2023
Ahead of a decision on whether to become a signatory to the Leicester and Leicestershire Statement of Common Ground (SOCG) at Full Council on 11 December 2023: To set out the background to the SOCG in the Harborough district, including facts and figures, and the timeline of key councillor briefings and meetings since May 2022.
At Full Council on 18 September 2023, a motion proposed by the council leader to defer a decision on whether to become a signatory to the Leicester and Leicestershire Statement of Common Ground (SOCG) relating to housing and employment needs, was carried by councillors. At the meeting, Cllr Phil Knowles, Leader of Harborough District Council, referenced that the three local MPs had shared their views against signing this agreement and invited them to an open meeting to clarify and evidence the information that they have shared publicly on this issue and to question the advice that the council has been given.
The Statement of Common Ground went for a decision at Full Council on 6 November 2023. The Cllr Leader proposed a deferral to allow time for everyone to consider a letter from the Minister for Housing and advice that the council had received from King's Counsel.
The Statement of Common Ground will go for a decision at Full Council on 11 December 2023.
There has been historic disquiet within the district over recent years in relation to the issue of unmet housing and employment, including suggestions that:
- Leicester City Council is not doing all it can to reduce its unmet housing and employment needs;
- That there is no longer a requirement to evidence the Duty to Co-operate;
- The council is being “forced” to accept additional houses.
Taking each of these in turn, the council has sought and received external advice and clarification in relation to each of these concerns:
- Leicester City Council – efforts to reduce its unmet need
The council has therefore sought further clarification from Leicester City Council regarding the work it has undertaken to maximise housing delivery (and therefore reduce unmet need) within its own boundaries. The letter from Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester City Mayor dated 12 September 2023 confirms work undertaken and is attached at the bottom of this page.
- The ongoing need to meet the Duty to Cooperate
The Government’s intention to abolish the duty to cooperate has generated some uncertainty about the current legal position. The council has therefore written to the Secretary of State seeking clarification on the government’s position. A response was received from Rachel Maclean MP, Minister of State for Housing and Planning, dated 8 September 2023. The letter confirms that the Duty to Cooperate will be formally abolished after the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill receives royal assent, but that existing legal requirements and duties, including the Duty to Cooperate continue to apply for plans being prepared under the current system. The letter is attached at the bottom of this page.
Independent advice on this matter has also been received from specialist advisors from consultancy Intelligent Plans and Examinations. The detailed advice note confirms that at the present time, the council continues to be subject to the legal requirements to comply with the Duty to Cooperate. Indeed, the advice note explains that the Duty to Cooperate is the first matter that the Planning Inspectorate will look at before considering whether a future local plan is ‘sound’. This confirms officer advice.
- The need to plan for Additional Homes
There has been some confusion about the need to plan to help meet some of the unmet homes from within the HMA, and specifically from within Leicester City. Again, the letter from the Minister of State for Housing and Planning is clear in this respect. The letter confirms that there is no prescribed formula for distributing unmet housing needs (in this case arising from Leicester City) and that the method for distributing such needs between partner authorities within the HMA is a matter for Statements of Common Ground under the duty to cooperate. This helpfully clarifies the situation and confirms the appropriateness of the course of action undertaken by partner authorities across the HMA in commissioning evidence and preparing the SoCG, in order to identify and agree an appropriate distribution in the absence of a clear formula from Government.
Again, further advice on this matter is included in the advice from independent advisors at Intelligent Plans and Examinations. Their advice note (appended to the reports from 18 September and 6 November) details the substantial body of technical evidence which underpins the SoCG..
The advice note from Intelligent Plans and Examinations offers a thorough, independent examination of the SoCG and the implications of the council signing it, together with the risks of not signing it. On the basis of their assessment, the advice note concludes very clearly that their recommendation is for the council to sign the SoCG.
Key messages/facts and figures
House building in the Harborough district
- More houses are being built each year across Harborough district than the Statement of Common Ground requires - the council has been delivering around 1,000 homes per year over the last 3 years which is significantly higher than the 657 for which the council needs to plan
- Harborough’s contribution to meeting Leicester’s unmet need is 123 homes per year
- The current Local Plan made provision for a total of 557 homes per year
- The housing need for the district is now slightly lower than when the current Local Plan was prepared which is why the required figure of 657 is 100 more than the current plan, not 123 more
- The majority of development that the council must deliver is Harborough’s own need (78%) not the city’s (22%)
- A decision on where this new housing should be built within the district will be made by the council through the preparation of the new local plan for Harborough with full community engagement and consultation. All proposed development will go through the formal planning process with individual planning applications being assessed in line with the local plan
Benefits of signing the Statement of Common Ground
- The council can progress the development of the Local Plan – an important planning document which helps it make sure that future development in the district takes place in the most appropriate places
- The prospect of successful challenges to the council’s local plan is reduced (and therefore less unsuitable planning applications will be approved)
Risks of not signing the Statement of Common Ground
- The council could be in breach of its local plan policy deadlines
- The council may be unable to progress renewal of its local plan as it may be unable to demonstrate it has complied with the ‘duty to co-operate’.
- The council will find it a lot harder to resist planning applications for new homes in unsuitable places if the local plan is out of date
Why does the decision need to be taken now?
- Delaying the decision on the Statement of Common Ground adds unnecessary uncertainty and delay to already an already challenging Local Plan preparation timescale
- The evidence underpinning the distribution of unmet from Leicester City need is robust and has been independently assessed – it is not going to significantly change
Have other local authorities signed the Statement of Common Ground?
- 7 of the 9 local authorities in Leicestershire have already agreed the statement of common ground.
Timeline since May 2022
A table below sets out the timeline of member briefings meetings and decisions relating to the Statement of Common Ground (SOCG) since May 2022.
|25 May 2022||Informal Cabinet Briefing||Cabinet Members||N/A|
|6 October 2022||All Member Briefing||All Members||N/A|
|13 October 2022||Communities Scrutiny Panel meeting||Communities Scrutiny Panel, public observing||Recommend to Cabinet to put forward SoCG to Council with a recommendation to sign|
|8 December 2022||All Member Briefing on Leicester City Council’s work to identify housing supply||All Members||N/A|
|5 June 2023||Informal Cabinet Briefing||Cabinet Members||N/A|
|21 June 2023||All Member Briefing||All Members||N/A|
|4 September 2023||Cabinet meeting||Cabinet Members, public observing||Recommend to Council to sign the SoCG|
|7 September 2023||All Member Briefing on Duty to Cooperate by independent advisor from Intelligent Plans and Examinations||All Members||N/A|
|18 September 2023||Full Council meeting||All Members||Motion proposed by the council leader to defer the decision, and agreed|
|6 November 2023||Full Council meeting||All Members||Motion proposed by the council leader to defer the decision, and agreed|
|11 December 2023||Full Council meeting||All Members||Decision to be discussed|
Council media statements
- Wednesday 7 June 2023 – Duty to cooperate – media statement from Cllr Phil Knowles, Leader of Harborough District Council
In response to Neil O’Brien MP’s letter to Cllr Knowles and the media
- Wednesday 23 August 2023 – Clarification on ‘duty to cooperate’ legislation requested from Secretary of State
- Thursday 7 September 2023 – media statement on Statement of Common Ground
- Monday 11 September 2023 – media statement - Harborough Local Plan - Leicester and Leicestershire Statement of Common Ground relating to housing and employment land needs
Issued in response to a press release from Neil O’Brien MP regarding a letter from the Housing Minister and a petition
- Tuesday 19 September 2023 – Council defers decision on signing to accept share of Leicester’s unmet housing need and issues challenge to local MPs
- Monday 2 October 2023 – Local MPs decline meeting with council leader about share of Leicester’s unmet housing need
- Friday 20 October 2023 - Leicester and Leicestershire Statement of Common Ground - date for meeting with MPs passes
- Tuesday 24 October 2023 - Council leader to attend public meeting with MPs about Leicester's unmet housing need
- Tuesday 7 November 2023 - Council defers decision to accept Leicester's 'unmet housing need' for second time
- Advisory Note from Intelligent Plans and Examinations on Duty to Cooperate - published as supplementary papers to September Council report
- Additional Advisory Note from Intelligent Plans and Examinations following the Ministerial letter - published as supplementary papers to Sept Council report
- Harborough Local Plan - Leicester and Leicestershire Statement of Common Ground - Counsel advice
- Harborough Local Plan - Letters from Minister McClean and Michael Gove
- 31 May 2023 – Letter from Neil O’Brien re Leicester unmet housing need
- 7 June 2023 - Letter to Neil O’Brien Leicester Housing
- 8 September – Response from Housing Minister Rachel McClean
- 12 September – City Mayor’s letter to Cllr Knowles – Leicester Local Plan
- 29 September 2023 - Letters to 3 MPs
- 27 October 2023 - Letters from Minister McClean and Michael Gove
- More articles in the news archive