That goes against government recommendations that say councils have an obligation to 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.”
St Helens Council has not done this and when asked why not by campaigners claimed it didn’t have to.
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.
Green belt campaigners say the council is “deliberately hiding” its Local Plan timetable and “getting further and further behind the council’s original schedule with each passing day”.
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”.
Figures uncovered using Freedom of Information requests show at least 977 people with Rainford addresses took part in the council’s consultation earlier this year.
Rainford Action Group says the response from Rainford is a “clear demonstration of the serious concerns residents have and those concerns must be taken seriously by the council”.
The group has agreed to meet with council officials who have invited them to discuss “the Local Plan process”. The group welcomed the meeting but stressed it will only be satisfied with “fundamental” changes to the plan.
James Wright, chair 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 already been kept in the dark for far too long.
“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 will not be satisfied with the Local Plan unless there are fundamental changes to it.”
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.
The council says 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.
Rainford Action Group strongly disputes the council’s population growth predictions, pointing out that St Helens Borough has had a declining population for 30 years and there is no evidence that trend will dramatically reverse.
In other council reports, it is clearly stated that the borough’s population is falling.