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By IH Wednesday 17 October 2012 Updated: 19/10 13:14
A BLUEPRINT for planning policy in Stratford district has been delayed again.
Coun Chris Saint, leader of Conservative-controlled Stratford District Council, announced the latest delay to the Core Strategy at a meeting on Monday (October 15). The document was initially set to be completed last month, but was put back to May next year, and then to the autumn.
Coun Saint told the meeting the drawing up of the document was "well behind schedule" but did not give an indication of a new adoption date.
He added he had informed the Department of Communities and Local Government about the delay - the same body which this week deferred a decision on the building of 800 new homes in Shottery. No reason for the deferral, or new date for a decision, was given by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles.
Coun Saint did not say if the Shottery delay had any bearing on the further delay to the Core Strategy.
He said: "There is nothing to be gained for being ill prepared for the final stages of our Core Strategy. I have made it quite clear, whilst not seeking delays, that short cuts could prove costly in the long run and may further delay our process."
Coun Saint told us last month it was important the district's planning policy dovetailed with the National Planning Policy Framework, published in March.
And he also defended claims failure to adopt the Core Strategy was leaving the district open to exploitation by developers, arguing the current planning policy was "sound".
But the opposition Liberal Democrats were less than impressed by the latest delay to the Core Strategy.
"This is an utter shambles’, said Coun Peter Moorse, the Lib Dem group’s spokesman on planning matters.
"This is the third attempt at a Core Strategy, and even this has been delayed before. We suggested last October that more resources were needed, but the Conservatives ignored us. The third attempt is now being deferred for the second time and Coun Saint can’t even give us an estimate of when he expects the Core Strategy to be finished.
"In the absence of a Core Strategy there is a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’. This makes it much more difficult to reject unwanted planning applications for new housing estates."
Coun Saint's full statement on the delay to the Core Strategy.
I regret to inform Council that the Local Development Scheme is running well behind schedule, despite a considerable amount of energy having been expended upon the processes that have to be undertaken. Anticipating questions about the situation, I am making this statement.
Background - A year ago, Council adopted a timetable that anticipated the adoption of our Core Strategy by May 2013. To do this, by now the submission draft would have had to have been written and subject to a period of public consultation, so that the Department Communities and Local Government (CLG) could, among other things, refer the documentation to a planning inspector for an Examination in Public.
CLG have been notified that we are not yet ready to Submit the revised draft. I am studying the various options available to us and when we have clarity I shall be brining proposals forward to revise the scheme.
Why does it take so long? - Updates to planning policy involve a lengthy process.
To simplify matters, the Local Development Framework split the local plan into a set of Development Plan Documents (DPDs). One of these, the Core Strategy, establishes a strategic overview to Development Control.
Core Strategy production is a highly regulated process, involving detailed consultation.
All councils have spent a long time in preparing Core Strategies - Initially, the Government did not view early Core Strategies as sufficiently robust and rules were introduced. Core Strategies were to become evidence based and subject to environmental and sustainability appraisals. This became so time consuming that by 2011, when Government policy was redrafted, over 70% of Councils had not adopted their Core Strategies.
Evidence gathering - Our evidence base is both extensive and costly.
Our archaeological, landscape and environmental studies represent a new dimension to Plan making and Development Control. However, we have to take care that those studies looking at statistical data do not base their findings on arbitrary reference points.
Virtually all the timescales reported to the former LDF Working Group in March have slipped significantly. In some cases, the reports are late and in others there have been the need for significant corrections. There have been delays in bringing them to Cabinet, but my priority has been to ensure that the integrity of all documentation is not in question.
The penalties for getting things wrong can be significant and costly
Commentary - I have received a briefing from the Chief Executive who advises me:
1. Staffing levels in the Policy Team have been depleted by ill health, vacancies and unavailability of competent staff in the market.
2. Staffing levels did not allow for the need for the Policy Team to provide advice on major planning applications and subsequent appeals.
3. He is advising that to continue to continue to publish a final draft of the Core Strategy prior to the Shottery Appeal decision may be inappropriate use of the Council’s Resources and public money.
Duty to Cooperate - We are required to reflect cross boundary issues in our Plan making. I was advised on Friday (12th) that Redditch Borough Council have requested that we delay preparation of our draft Core Strategy so both Councils, as well as Bromsgrove can submit Core Strategies together. A challenge and I have little appetite for further delay. I will look at the detail of their request before making any decision.
Vulnerability - I am aware of the concerns about our vulnerability to planning applications.
The government introduced its National Planning Policy Framework in March 2012 that advanced the principles of sustainable development, with new related definitions. It does not help when viewed as a one size fits all principle that surpasses all others.
Despite the fears, every one of our saved Local Plan policies is alive and kicking and exists without time limit. The only exception is where there is a conflict with the NPPF and there are very few of these.
However, I will not tolerate mass house building based on arbitrary criteria masquerading as sound policy. Our aim is to develop communities and their infrastructure. I do not wish to risk building lifeless commuter estates or the sink estates of the future.
There is nothing to be gained for being ill prepared for the final stages of our Core Strategy. I have made it quite clear, whilst not seeking delays, that short cuts could prove costly in the long run and may further delay our process.
The Chief Executive remains in no doubt about my feelings and the management of the situation is often at the top of the list at our fortnightly briefing meetings.
Councillor CJ Saint
Leader Stratford District Council
15 October 2012
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