Chelgate Local Newsletter – April 2020
This month we bring you updates on local plan sagas in Sevenoaks, St Albans and Uttlesford. We also recap the first two of our Live Planning Events with Cllr Linda Haysey from East Herts DC and Cllr Carlo Guglielmi, Tendring DC.
Sevenoaks in legal challenge over local plan
By Kasia Banas, Account Director
Sevenoaks District Council has decided to legally challenge the Inspector’s decision to find their local plan unsound
It looks like the battle over the local plan process in Sevenoaks is set to continue as the Council seeks leave to Judicially Review the decisions made by the Inspector.
This latest move in the long running saga stems from the Inspector’s final report, the dispute is based on the inspector’s view that the council has failed in its Duty to Cooperate with its neighbouring councils. Whilst the examination was stopped before all hearings could take place, she also pointed out to several other areas of the plan that she would have been likely to require further evidence on.
The Sevenoaks council strongly disagrees with this assessment and points out that this issue should have been flagged by the Inspector earlier in the examination process. They have also voiced suspicions that being the first plan to be assessed under a new planning framework, failing to meet the Government’s housing figure was the real reason behind finding the plan unsound as it would potentially impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country.
Sevenoaks DC assures that they did not take this decision lightly and are only going forward with the Judicial Review because, based on the legal advice received, they believe they have a strong enough case to win. However, should they fail, they will be working against the clock to come up with a new plan before Secretary of State’s 2023 deadline. For now, they seem confident that even if it came to that, they would not need to start from scratch. They would ‘only’ need to address the duty to cooperate issue and resubmit some of the evidence that will be out of date by then. This is a rather optimistic view. They may well have to start anew; in which case they are running the risk of missing the deadline and facing intervention. And as we’ve seen in the case of South Oxfordshire, Mr Jenrick is not shy to take action with council which are dragging their feet.
Back to the drawing board for St Albans
by Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property
In the latest installment on the saga of the St Albans Local plan the inspectors have written to the council detailing why the Examination in Public was suspended and it does not make good reading
The council has the second-oldest local plan in the country, and this is the second attempt to create a sound local plan. The first one ending in acrimony with the previous administration taking the Secretary of State to the High Court in a failed attempt to overturn the previous inspector’s findings.
Current inspectors Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington stopped the EiP in January. They cancelled the following sessions in February expressing “serious concerns in terms of legal compliance and soundness” of the plan.
In a letter late last week, the inspectors gave more detail about their concerns. Although stressing that they had yet to make their final decision, the concerns were damning:
- Failure to engage constructively and actively with neighbouring authorities on the strategic matters of (a) the Radlett Strategic Rail Freight Interchange proposal and (b) their ability to accommodate St Alban’s housing needs outside of the Green Belt;
- Plan preparation not in accordance with the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement;
- Inadequate evidence to support the Council’s contention that exceptional circumstances exist to alter the boundaries of the Green Belt;
- Failure of the Sustainability Appraisal to consider some seemingly credible and obvious reasonable alternatives to the policies and proposals of the plan;
- Failure of the plan to meet objectively-assessed needs; and
- Absence of key pieces of supporting evidence for the plan.
The failure to engage with neighbours is a reoccurring theme: this was the main reason why the last local plan failed.
Although the council has not been invited to withdraw the plan, it must only be a matter of time. The amount of modification needed to reverse the soundness of this plan would mean, in effect, re-writing it. It is fairly clear that the council is going to have to go back to the drawing board.
The current LibDem administration will not be wholly upset about that. It was ‘saddled’ with the plan when it took over the council last May from the Conservatives. The current plan does not meet many of their policies, such as housing for younger generations, greater affordable provision and more social housing, so this is a huge opportunity for them to put their mark.
The delay of this year’s local elections will help them do that. There was a clear danger that the Conservatives would have taken the council back, building on the general election success and the popularity of Boris Johnston. The LibDems have a at least a further year in power in which to progress a new local plan.
Uttlesford to decide on local plan
by Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property
Uttlesford District Council has called an Extraordinary Council Meeting (ECM) next Thursday to consider a recommendation from officers to withdraw the local plan
The two inspectors, Louise Crosby and Elaine Worthington, the same inspectors as for St Albans, had expressed serious concerns over the local plan. They felt there was an over-reliance on three new garden communities which would take tome to deliver. They also felt that even with the plan adopted the council would not have a five-year land supply.
The council subsequently appointed a Peer Review Team from the East of England Local Government Association to provide independent advice. The council administration is new, only having been elected last May. Residents4Uttlesford was unexpectedly swept to power, overturning a significant and long-standing Conservative majority.
R4U campaigned on the basis of objecting to the local plan, although allowed it to continue after the election. The inspectors may have done them a favour although perhaps not: the council will take two to three years to bring forward a new plan during which they will be subjected to speculative applications until its five-year land supply has been achieved – the council will have to decide now what applications it needs to support and which it will allow to go to appeal – a policy of favouring the least-worst projects!
The timing, however, is difficult for R4U as the new plan will be coming forward for adoption in the run-up to the next local elections (they elect every four years). If they get it wrong in the eyes of the electorate, they will be punished by the ballot box.
The leader, Cllr John Lodge, has always said his party did not oppose the local plan, just that the wrong developments were being planned in the wrong place. Now we will get the opportunity to see what he thinks are the right developments, and where they should be located.
The ECM next week will be held virtually.
Live Planning Event – Cllr Linda Haysey, East Herts DC
Chelgate’s first Live Planning Event attracted over 30 professionals from across the sector who gathered for a virtual meeting with Cllr Linda Haysey, Leader of East Hertfordshire District Council
Cllr Haysey spoke about the measures that the council is taking to continue the planning process and answered questions from the participants. She said that the council is using all the technology available to make sure planning process continues to avoid having a backlog of applications to be considered later in the year. The council is at the moment receiving less applications than usual, but the volume is expected to increase in the coming weeks and the council is ready to process them in a timely manner. The planning policy team is also starting to look at the local plan review, with a call for sites expected in the autumn.
She assured that the council does not intend to change the delegation process when there is a viable way to continue committee work. The first virtual Development Management Committee meeting will take place on 29th April, following extensive member training and test runs. The public participation part of the meeting can either take place by reading out a submitted written statement or playing a pre-recorded video of the speaker during the proceedings.
Site visits for members are one of the issues that the council is looking for input on from the sector. It was suggested that instead of organising a visit, applicants send video footage of the site for members to review.
Another issue that the council is looking for help on from the sector is public consultations. In order to avoid legal challenges which can slow down the housing delivery, it is paramount that due process is being followed. This includes ensuring that the public is informed, engaged and consulted.
While it was agreed that increased digital engagement will provide an opportunity to reach further and wider, especially the younger residents, there is a concern of the older and more deprived areas losing out.
Cllr Haysey shares Chelgate Local’s optimism in us being able to deliver effective public consultations which reach across all parts of the community. This can be achieved through hosting virtual consultation events, expanded social media activity, as well as increased direct mail with various channels for response.
Cllr Haysey’s final message was a call for keeping development going as moving forward, building will be a crucial part of the economy nationally and in East Hertfordshire.
Live Planning Event – Cllr Carlo Guglielmi, Tendring DC
The guest of Chelgate Local’s second Live Planning Event was Cllr Carlo Guglielmi, Deputy Leader of Tendring Council and Chairman of the Development & Regulation Committee at Essex County Council
He started with an update on Tendring’s local plan. Following the submission of additional evidence, the council has been in regular contact with the inspector whose letter is expected in the next few days. The council is confident that they complied with all requirements, but the inspector might deem further modifications needed. Cllr Guglielmi hopes however, that the inspector shares the government’s trust in soundness of Part 1 of the plan which was demonstration by allocation of the HIF fund money to the North Essex Authorities. Due to delays, some evidence for the Part 2 of the plan will need to be update but officers are doing this work as required. Once Part 1 is approved the council will launch Part 2 immediately with public consultation expected in the Autumn.
Cllr Guglielmi reported that the planning department has been working as normal and the first virtual committee meeting is due to take place next week. Next planning meeting will take place in the first week of May. How virtual meetings will work in practise remains to be seen but Cllr Guglielmi believes that they will be a success and are here to stay. Planning committees especially, are ideal for being held online as there’s not much interaction from the public. Virtual meetings will, however, allow bigger public to listen in, increasing democratic accountability. There will also be no need for many consultants to travel to meetings, decreasing the carbon emissions and impact on environment.
Virtual meetings are also part of the solution to holding public consultations whilst the social distancing measures are in place. The digital solutions will provide an opportunity to engage with younger parts of the community, but older generations cannot be forgotten. Over the next few months, a key to effective and inclusive engagement will be a combination of both digital but also traditional ‘contactless’ measures. For some it will be easier, for some harder, but we all need to adapt to this new normal as changes have come and are likely here to stay.
This was the second of a series of Live Planning Events hosted by Chelgate Local. For more details on past and upcoming events please visit our website.
For more information on Chelgate Local’s contactless consultation please visit our website or get in touch with Mike Hardware at firstname.lastname@example.org or (0)20 7939 7989.
Upcoming Live Events
- Wednesday, 22nd April (11am) Epping Forest District Council with Cllr John Philip, portfolio holder for planning
- Monday, 27th April (11am) St Albans City and District Council with Cllr Chris White, council leader.
- Wednesday, 29th April (11am) Maidstone Borough Council with Cllr Clive English, chairman of the council planning committee.
For more details and to sign up visit our website.