Local plan process is clear and transparent

Local plan process is clear and transparent

Next steps for shared Local Plan

Three north Essex councils are reminding residents of the next steps in the development of their shared Local Plan.

Braintree District, Colchester Borough and Tendring District councils, supported by Essex County Council, are creating a shared section one of their Local Plans – a blueprint for development in their areas up until 2033.

The Local Plan was examined by a Government Planning Inspector who in June last year set out what issues needed to be addressed for the document to be found sound, including more evidence around viability and transport infrastructure. Since then the North Essex Authorities (NEA) have been revising the evidence, in an approach agreed with the Planning Inspector.

The Inspector also praised the “commendable ambitions for high-quality, strategic-scale development in North Essex”.

Acknowledging criticism from some quarters about how the process is being carried out, the councils are again informing residents about the next steps in an effort to be clear and transparent about the process.

As part of the process an independent organisation, LUC, has been brought in to rigorously assess the various potential sites put forward against the potential new garden communities to ensure that the most appropriate ones are taken forward to help the three councils meet their future housing obligations.

This work, called a Sustainability Appraisal, is ongoing and has involved engaging with stakeholders and local communities to make sure each proposal is explored and assessed fairly.

Once completed the Sustainability Appraisal, and any modifications to the draft Local Plan needed as a result, will need to be considered by each respective councils’ Local Plan Committee – and if approved would go back out for public consultation. The results of this are provided to the Planning Inspector to resume the currently paused Inquiry into the Local Plan. It is anticipated the consultation will happen in the summer of 2019, and then the Inquiry re-opened in the autumn.

Neil Stock OBE, Leader of Tendring District Council, said the process was clearly defined in national planning policy.

“Local Plans are not a new feature of planning law, and the process of a Planning Inspector highlighting areas of further work required before adopting a sound Local Plan is perfectly normal,” Cllr Stock said.

“The North Essex Authorities are now busy carrying out that work, including commissioning an independent Sustainability Appraisal, just as the Inspector asked.

“I welcome the scrutiny being placed on this process. It is absolutely right that our Local Plan is developed in a transparent, open and inclusive way; it's what we have done from the beginning and what we will continue to do all the way through.

“The Inspector told us to get on with the job, has approved our approach to tackling it, and will ultimately be able to tell us in no uncertain terms if he does not approve of the new evidence when we go back to an Inquiry. That is what we are focusing on, not idle speculation.”

Graham Butland, Leader of Braintree District Council, said a benefit of three authorities submitting a shared Local Plan was that there is three times the level of scrutiny.

“Each council has its own process for scrutinising the work it carries out, and ultimately three councils all taking a robust look at the work being done,” Cllr Butland said.

“In addition there are three sets of planning officers, experts in their field, as well as in-house solicitors, regeneration teams and so on – not to mention where necessary outsourced experts and legal guidance – all contributing towards developing a first-class Local Plan for our area.

“All of those officers involved in this process are doing an outstanding job, and I know I speak for all three council leaders when I say we are proud of them.”

Mark Cory, Leader of Colchester Borough Council, said garden community principles were the best way forward for sustainable housing growth in north Essex.

“The independent Sustainability Appraisal will look at the impact of new development in comparison with other potential sites, and when we have the findings we will need to consider this carefully. It is clear that residents want to see a commitment to new infrastructure before further development goes ahead.” Cllr Cory said.

“We must continue to listen and be conscious of the real, genuine concerns of existing communities.”

“The Planning Inspector confirmed, between the three authorities we must build a total of 2,186 houses every year up until 2033. That is not optional – what we do have control of, is where and how these new homes are built, and we will continue to be clear that this must be done with appropriate infrastructure in the right place.”