Public Examination – Summary of Stages 1 & 2
We were represented at the Stage 2 hearings on 24th and 25th October by our planning consultant, Richard Bate, with John Gardner and Rick Sanderson in attendance. The Council were well represented, as were various landowners and developers with interests in the Local Plan. Gascoyne Cecil Estates, promoters of the Symondshyde site, were represented by Queen’s Counsel – which shows what we’re up against!
The hearings were about the Council’s assessment of housing need; their employment forecasts; their assessment of the contribution land makes to the purposes of the Green Belt; whether the necessary exceptional circumstances for releasing land from the Green Belt had been demonstrated; and the spatial vision and settlement strategy. The Inspector had issued a list of questions that he wanted answered. He did not want to discuss site- specific matters – that will come at a later hearing – but he was prepared to allow some reference to sites as examples in discussion about the generic issues.
Our planning consultant gave evidence based on the Statements submitted on our behalf before the hearings, which can be viewed here.
Unexpectedly, on Friday 27th October, the Inspector held a public ‘round-up’ session, at which he gave the Council his preliminary views on the Draft Local Plan, on a without prejudice basis. He started off by saying that he did not think the Plan as it stood met the test of ‘soundness’, but that he thought it could be made sound if the Council made some modifications. He thought that the employment growth strategy might be too ambitious, and questioned why the Council was proposing so much economic development using Green Belt land that could be developed for housing instead.
The Inspector took the view that the Council should plan to meet the full Objectively Assessed Housing Need (OAHN), in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework. This would increase the housing requirement from 12,000 dwellings to 16,000 (averaging 800 per annum) over the Plan period. He acknowledged that this would mean developing large swathes of Green Belt land, and said it was up to the Council to review the Green Belt again to decide what could be given up and what should be retained on a permanent basis because it contributed significantly to meeting the purposes of the Green Belt and maintaining its openness.