A councillor’s view of the Local PLan

The current plan is a real muddle and needs changing in my opinion, but sadly NHDC has obviously completely failed to alert the wider public to the very real harm that will arise if there is not an approved local plan in place – current planning process requires local authorities to have a 5 year (planning and development ready) land supply. NHDC does not have that in hand. Further, NHDC does not have a Community Infrastructure Levy mechanism in place (the process for leveraging infrastructure payments from developers on each and every site that is built on) and cannot legally create one without an approved Local Plan, so NHDC would have no defence against hostile planning applications and no mechanism available to it to lever infrastructure improvements on the back of any developments that take place as a result – recent changes to section 106 have emasculated that levy, so in real terms we are faced with ‘no plan’, ‘no infrastructure’. IT IS THAT SIMPLE. Development will happen without controls so no ‘affordable housing’ demands could be made – need I go on? – a disaster waiting to happen in my opinion.
Hertfordshire County Council have put in a formal objection to the NHDC Local plan, on a number of grounds, including failure to fulfil the duty to cooperate under the National Policy Guidance, and (inter alia) lack of provision for education and highway infrastructure, all of which figure large in the list of problems surrounding the current proposals. ……
Sadly there is a widespread misconception around the separation of the statutory duty of the Districts Councils (the Local Planning Authorities) to predict and provide for, housing and economic growth, by way of a Local Plan and the Development Control functions of both the upper tier (county) and the lower tier (district) councils as to what is acceptable within a ‘development’ plan.
Irrespective of whether the Local plan envisages that a site might be ‘capable of development’, its inclusion in the draft, is absolutely no guarantee that it will be developed just because it is ‘ in the plan’. Unless a potential developer can persuade the Development Control function of the LPA that the issues which are (apparent) constraints (such as education, highways and flooding for example, can be dealt with effectively, a consent would be withheld, even if it (the site) is ‘in the strategic plan’.
To date, all that NHDC councillors have done in relation to the plan, is to vote to put the draft into the public realm for a consultation exercise, which process enabled residents to make the very points that are universally presented as coherent arguments against inclusion of specific site proposals and (for that matter) the plan as a whole.
Under the legislation, NHDC has (in basic terms) acted as a post box for these responses on behalf of a higher authority (the Planning Inspectorate). There have been several thousand responses to this exercise. These have been collated into areas of similarity and function and await formal submission to the appointed inspector for consideration as to their impact and validity on individual parts of the plan, or the plan as a whole. In short, the inspector could decide the plan is defective and throw it out, or direct that it is capable of being made sound, if certain (as yet undecided) changes are made. Only the inspector has that power. NHDC cannot change the plan in isolation, nor can the council challenge the inspectors decision(s), unless he/she is ‘wrong’ in law.
Given the County Councils objections and the immense weight of the profound arguments from the several thousand residents that have responded, it is entirely possible that the Inspector might take the view that the thing is so fractured that it can’t be mended. In which case, we have a real problem and will probably face the horrors I outline above?
Alternatively the inspector could make recommendations for change, that could allow the underpinning ‘conditions’, which are actually included within the draft plan but never acknowledged by those who are rightly ‘exercised’ by the huge housing growth being thrust upon this District (and our neighbours too), to be implemented. This might allow the council to exercise some constraint and seek contributions that could ameliorate the worst of the impacts of this growth.
I have immense personal concerns around the NHDC local plan, but, in short, not submit the Plan would actually be to deny those who have made submissions to this stage the right to have their views heard (and decided on) by the independent inspector. I think that would not be an acceptable course of action.
I hope you can see my reasoning on this vexed issue.

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