The Planning Inspector has written to the authorities responding to their letter* in which they say how they wish to address the shortcomings of their Local Plan.
The inspector has cautiously given the green light, but it is clear that he has fitted dual controls and will be with them in the car.
We are delighted to see strong checks included so that promises made by our authorities are backed by hard evidence, something we have been calling for.
- the inspector asks the authorities to take note of his paragraphs in his 8 June letter which relate to viability, to ensure they take land costs and interest into account;
- he reminds them that in proposing a mass rapid transit they must set out routes, type, costs, operators, passenger forecasts and sequencing;
- he points back to his paragraph 132 in June which set out concerns about the likelihood of delivery of three garden communities at once: “I would advise that simultaneously bringing forward three GC’s on the scale proposed in the submitted Plan is likely to be difficult to justify. This is mainly because of the difficulty of co-ordinating the provision of infrastructure, particularly large-scale transport infrastructure, with the development of the GC’s.“;
- particularly good news, the inspector welcomes the authorities intent to progress “with strong evidence of constructive engagement and involvement with local communities throughout the plan, and acceptance derived locally” and asks for more information on the authorities consultation proposals because he will wish to comment;
- He reminds the authorities of the need to do the work with an open mind and without preconception.
Although the inspector does state that he is available to Examine the proposals in June 2019, we would guess that, given the amount of work the authorities need to do, he has already booked his holiday…
The authorities have set themselves an impossible timetable. They propose to submit the Plan in March, by which time they must hold a five week consultation on the Sustainability Appraisal methodology and respond accordingly, prepare a transport plan, a land acquisitions strategy, a plan for jobs, evidence of viability, a new Section 1 Plan and then hold a further six week consultation.
The inspector doesn’t quite slam his hand on the dashboard, but he does say: “I would advise that the NEAs should take as much time as is needed to ensure that the further work addresses all the shortcomings in the evidence base and the SA that were identified in my 8 June letter. In order to avoid further delays to the examination, it is vital that all the necessary further work is complete when the examination resumes, even if that means extending the original timetable for its preparation.”
The lawyers are circling, and the next stage of the process, the consultation of stakeholders (including those who participated in the Examination, eg CAUSE) on the methodology for the sustainability appraisal will be interesting.
We feel confident that the Inspector is holding the authorities to account to ensure things are done properly. However, in the meantime, we are at the mercy of speculative developers, particularly in Braintree and Tendring. We would like to see our councils putting an immediate back-up plan in place to cover the inevitable slippage of their Section 1 timetable.
Today’s letter does not say yes or no to any development option proposed by the authorites. The inspector is clear that he cannot say whether the work the authorities wish to do will address the shortcomings, nor does he comment on soundness.
*Identified in the Inspector’s letter of 8 June 2018. All correspondence available here: https://www.braintree.gov.uk/info/200643/section_1/1065/section_1_examination_publication_local_plan/4
21 November letter: https://www.braintree.gov.uk/downloads/file/8118/ied014_-_inspectors_section_1_response_to_nea005_-_21st_nov_2019