Expected date for Stratford Districts important planning document now moved back to next year! A new report has criticised the current local plan meaning it's back to the drawing board again. Meanwhile developers will have more free reign on our towns, villages and countryside and more taxpayers money will be wasted if inappropriate developments go to appeal.
The Planning Inspector’s new report on Stratford’s Core Strategy proposals has been branded as devastating for the district by the opposition Liberal Democrats.
The Core Strategy is the important document that the council needs to set out where all new housing and commercial development must go over a 20 year period. Without this, the district is in a weaker position to say no to unwanted development. The new report is vital to point out any areas of concern that could cause the document to be rejected. Worryingly, the Inspector was highly critical of a number of points within the current Strategy, meaning it will be back to the drawing board with yet more delays.
"This is clearly going to lead to even more delays in getting the plan adopted", said Cllr Richard Cheney, leader of the Lib Dem group on the District Council, "and in the meantime developers are going to be able to run rampant. In recent months we’ve seen planning application after planning application come forward for new housing estates that many residents consider completely inappropriate. This looks set to continue. The Inspector repeatedly commented on how long the plan is taking and we’re all going to pay the penalty for that in unwanted development and extra appeal costs and even more consultants’ costs. We said almost from the start that more resources were needed to speed things up but the Conservatives voted down our proposals. The Conservatives should hang their heads in shame at the shambles they’ve created".
Elizabeth Adams, Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Stratford-on-Avon shared his anger, "local residents are outraged at this shambles and the way it is being allowed to get worse. We are currently losing thousands and thousands of pounds in what should be unnecessary planning appeals, we're losing money for our local schools, health services and transport infrastructure and we're being landed with developments that we don't want or need. We want affordable housing in appropriate places that will give our children the chance to stay in the area they grew up in when they grow up and we want development that supports our local businesses. What we are getting is development that just makes money for those who don't care about our towns and villages and what they do to local services. It's time to say enough is enough and put the resources in to sort this mess out quickly".
The Inspector has now asked for an estimate of time needed to complete the extra work required. As recently as December the Leader of the district council, Cllr Chris Saint, told a public meeting at Stratford Racecourse that ‘we are still on target for July 2015’ (1) but it now looks as though it could be 2016 before the plan is adopted.
After declaring that the plan as it stands was ‘not sound’ the Inspector highlighted three areas for particular criticism: the proposed housing numbers, the work on the selection of a new settlement and proposal SUA3 – the release of green belt land in Stratford for commercial development.
So, what would the Lib Dems have done differently?
- In October 2011 the Lib Dems saw the problem coming and set out proposals to put more resources towards getting the plan finished quickly. The Conservatives refused to back them and voted them down.
- The Conservative Leader insisted on discussing important planning policy issues in secret meetings with a handful of Tory colleagues. The Lib Dems wanted transparency and a much wider range of contributions towards solving the problems.
- Until late in the day the Conservatives refused to follow Lib Dem advice to look at the possibility of a new settlement taking part of the housing requirement, rather than continually tacking housing estates onto the edges of our towns and villages. Eventually they took up the idea, but by then time had been lost.
- Lib Dem councillors put forward a proposal at a county council meeting in 2014 calling for the council to recognise the pressure now being placed on the County's infrastructure, roads, and schools and asking that ‘as a matter of urgency’ a strategic Warwickshire Infrastructure Plan be prepared. The motion was accepted, with strong support from councillors of all parties. However, when a proposal was put to the District Council’s council meeting by the Lib Dems asking for support for the County’s efforts, the Conservatives refused to back the motion!
DETAILS OF INSPECTORS CONCERNS
Paragraph 219: "I recognise that these interim conclusions will be a disappointment for both the Council and a number of parties but, for the reasons I have given, I consider that the CS is not sound as it stands. In the circumstances it would not be appropriate to let the CS progress to adoption at the present time."
On housing numbers, the Inspector said there was a disconnect between the commercial developments proposed for the area and the number of houses planned.
Paragraph 43: "In the circumstances the housing figure is not aligned to the employment growth forecast and there are grounds for concern that the Council appears to be planning for a situation in which a key part of its labour force cannot live in the District."
He also stated that further work is needed on the selection of a site for a new settlement:
Paragraph 1: "The Council needs to do further Sustainability Appraisal [SA] work to address identified defects in the SA process and as part of that exercise other strategic sites that have emerged at a late stage need to be considered and robust reasons given for selecting the preferred option and rejecting the alternative options;"
He considers that the proposal to use a site on the edge of Stratford (SUA3) – by the roundabout on the A46 at the end of Birmingham Road – is not justified and suggests that the council examine the possibility of using the old Atherstone Airfield.
Cllr Kate Rolfe said, ‘I have major concerns about this suggestion. Where would the traffic go – including all the HGVs? The main route to the A46 and much of the motorway system would be through the centre of Stratford and this route is already almost gridlocked at times’.
1. See minutes of racecourse meeting – available from county council or Cllr Peter Moorse 017899 269630.
2. Length of time plan is taking: The CS [Core Strategy] has had a long gestation period (paragraph 71)
... throughout the prolonged gestation period of the CS (Paragraph 105)
... the long gestation of the CS (paragraph 188)
3. This will be the fifth timetable for the Strategy:
- Originally adoption was planned for December 2012.
- This was then deferred by the Conservatives to May 2013.
- This was deferred again to November 2014.
- In December the Tory council Leader said it was on course for July.
- It is difficult to see how adoption can be before 2016, in view of the work requested by the Inspector.
Because of the delays the plan period was changed from 2008 – 2028 to 2011 to 2031.
4. Housing targets:
- The housing target started at 8,000.
- Then it was increased to 9,500.
- Then it went for 10,800.
- Then 11,300.
- Now the Inspector says the council should look again at the numbers.