Local Plan approved for the next stage Image:Central Bedfordshire Council

Local Plan to be sent to Secretary of State

Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) last night (26 April 2018) voted to submit its Local Plan to the Secretary of State.

The council members were told that a failure to submit the plan by the deadline would risk a loss of control of where developments should be located.

Councillor Nigel Young said:

“We will find it very difficult to resist [speculative developers] and they will, of course, be supported by the technical evidence base [Draft Local Plan] which we produced.”

Why is the plan needed?

The government has abolished top-down regional planning, but a locally-led planning system is still required. Local authorities come up with planning by listening to local residents and business, and set out a clear framework to build new homes, provide key infrastructure, support the local economy and protect the environment.

CBC own assessment is that 1,600 new homes should be built each year. At the moment 1,800 new homes a year are being built.

If an authority does not have a locally-led planning system then they will have to work to targets set by the government. The government’s recommendation for this authority is 2,553 a year.

Cooperating with surrounding councils – could this be a problem?

Local planning authorities, county councils and public bodies (in England) have a legal duty to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis to maximise the effectiveness of Local Plan preparations.

The duty to cooperate does not mean an agreement. But local planning authorities should make every effort to secure the necessary cooperation on strategic cross boundary matters before they submit their Local Plans for examination.

In his presentation to CBC, Councillor Young informed the council meeting that Luton Borough Council (LBC) has not yet signed a statement of common ground. He said:

“I hope that we can agree a version that will allow us to continue the positive discussions up to now. “We (CBC) cooperate with 14 local authorities, 13 of whom agree that we are or have cooperated with them, and we cooperate with 8 statutory bodies. All of whom have agreed that we do or have cooperated fully with them.”

This point was picked up on by Councillor Adam Zerny,  he said:

“They [LBC] do not agree that a duty to cooperate has been met and also that their comments had been misrepresetned in meetings. I don’t think that we can afford to ignore that.”

In response, Councillor Young said:

“Officers assure me that there is a difference of opinion between ourselves and Luton and we will continue to seek and to resolve that issue.”

In 2017, St Alban’s District Council (SADC) lost a High Court battle to keep its plan after the Planning Inspector, David Hogger, recommended that be withdrawn in 2016. Mr Hogger said that SADC had not fully cooperated with surrounding councils.

Councillor Young recommended that the Local Plan be approved for submission Image:Central Bedfordshire Council

Thousands of objections

During the consultation period, only 7% of the 6,275 who responded were in favour of the draft plan, 20% were recorded as comments and 73% were objections.

Councillor Young said:

“Of that 73% were very significant numbers from small localities which were in essence were objecting to specific allocations.”

“Council officers are satisfied that these [objections] have all been appropriately addressed by the technical evidence that under pins the plan.”

“Should the plan eventually get adopted all of these issues will be dealt with again as planning applications come forward.”

Rob Booth, Chairman of the Lidlington Action Group, said:

“This remains a bad plan. The Council could make better choices about which sites to develop and at what scale. Building 5,000 houses in Lidlington doesn’t make any sense.

“It would create a new town bigger than Ampthill right in the middle of the Forest of Marston Vale. Existing villages like ours would lose their identity. And the whole area will be blighted by traffic congestion and air pollution. Important wildlife habitats would be lost forever.

“That could all be avoided if they built at reduced scale in Lidlington and made use of other more suitable sites where the resulting traffic could be better managed.

“But the Council just aren’t listening. “We hope the Government-appointed Planning Inspector will listen at the hearings later this year and require the Council to amend their Plan.”

 

The next steps

Councillor Young said that the next steps would be:

  • May – Inspector appointed
  • June – The programme for examination will be released, possibly this summer
  • End of 2018 – Inspector’s Report is issued

If the examination process does not ask for any major amendments, then the council will vote on adopting the plan in early 2019. If there are major amendments, such as the rejection of a whole development, then the vote will be at the end of 2019.

The Inspector’s role is to test the “soundness” of the draft Plan (see paragraph 182 of the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework), whether the duty to co-operate has been met and whether the plan is legally compliant. The responsibility for producing the Plan, and then deciding whether or not to adopt it, lies solely with the local planning authority.

The local authority decides how they wish to proceed after the Inspector produces his/her report into the Examination. The adoption of a Local Plan can only be overturned by a successful challenge in the High Court on a point of law.