Gloucestershire Summit provides Some (Small) Clarity on Green Belt Review Issue
Gloucstersshire Echoe - confirms that a plan can be found unsound if doesnt meet housing need – even in Green Belt – and that the wording ‘environmental constraint’ in the gold guidance should not be read out fo con txt with the NPPF as a hole (happy 2nd birthday by the way you horribly ugly toddler). Also confirms what we already knew, if an LPA wants to delete Green Belt and has the evidence it can. What we don’t yet have clarity on is what happens when an LPA doesnt not want to, or changes its mind ()as it might given recent M, and the inspector knowing that will make a plan unsound on housing grounds, should recommend. Given the recent instructions (published and unpublished) to PINS it would seem that inspectors, contrary to post Stafford/Litchfield practice, jump straight to unsound, without mentioning the banned word ‘strategic Green Belt Review’ LPAs simply have to work that out for themselves. That would be a very difficult position because plans and inspectors reports are required by the regulations to be based on evidence, and that would produce an unsoundness finding based on lack of evidence that the inspector has not asked for. That would lead to a clear testing of the legality of the inspectors findings in the courts.
Representatives from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) met with the chief executives, leaders, officers and councillors from Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Gloucester councils for a summit meeting yesterday with the region’s MPs also invited.
The aim was to clarify whether or not guidance issued by the Planning Minister Nick Boles earlier this month means no homes should be built on green belt land.
The three councils are working on a development plan, called the joint core strategy (JCS), that sets out where 33,449 homes will be built between 2011 and 2031 – more than half of them on green belt land.
And following yesterday’s meeting the councils are convinced their approach is the right one after they were told they can make wholesale changes to green belt boundaries to make way for housing.
Andrew North, Cheltenham Borough Council’s chief executive and chair of the housing plan programme board, explained: “The message from DCLG was clear – the professional advice and evidence which has gone into the Joint Core Strategy so far remains relevant and valid.
“We were informed that the guidance must be read in its full context and alongside the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and therefore it remains up to local councils to decide whether to use the plan-making process to change green belt boundaries, where this is justified.
“Indeed, when asked about the extent of green belt changes that would be considered acceptable, the response was that the redrawing of the green belt is not limited and fundamental changes can be made provided it’s necessary.
“It was also stressed that councils have an obligation to meet the objectively-assessed housing need for their area in order for plans to be considered sound. Emphasis was also placed by DCLG on the importance of the duty to cooperate.
“Now that clarity has been provided, we will look to move forward with the plan.”
Laurence Robertson, Tewkesbury MP, outlined his belief earlier this month that the guidance from Mr Boles could mean the end for the JCS.
He was unable to attend yesterday’s meeting due to a prior engagement but speaking on his behalf, his assistant Mark Calway said he disagreed with a number of the points made by Mr North.
He still believes the councils are wrong in their belief that building on green belt in this instance is acceptable.
“The councils are going hell for leather regardless of what the intention of the minister is,” he said.
“It is rather sad. There is a certain arrogance among the JCS that they know best and nobody else is right.”
He added: “DCLG did say that the council is entitled to amend the green belt but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be accepted.
“They would have to prove that there are no other options. There are other options.”