In a letter to the councils’ joint planning committee this week, inspector David Vickery said: “At an exploratory meeting on 18 May, Mr Village QC alleged that the joint committee had submitted a core strategy that was not ready for examination…and said I should refuse to examine it.
“Mr Village QC also urged me, for various reasons, to find the core strategy unsound at this stage or, alternatively, to invite its immediate withdrawal.
“But those options are not available to me without hearing relevant evidence at a hearing session. It may well be that I decide to schedule evidence on the issues he mentioned.”
The inspector told the councils in May that it was “up to the joint committee to decide whether they wished to proceed with the examination”.
The joint committee subsequently requested a suspension to allow it time to address the inspectors’ concerns. This has now been granted and the examination will resume in December.
What are the issues. They relate to a latter sent 15th April from the noted QC on behalf of a developer and JB Planning.
The four issues in it were:
(1) The lack of an adequate submission proposals map compliant with the Town and Country Planning (Local Development) (England) Regulations 2004;
(2) The lack of up-to-date transport evidence informing the preparation of, and consultation on, the CS;
(3) The need for a final 6-week consultation on alternative sites;
(4) The CS’s lack of general conformity with the Regional Strategy.
It is likely these issues will come up again and again so lets look at them.
The first issue was bound to come up at some point as many authorities have been playing fast and loose with the regs on this point. Mr Village’s claim was that a series of A4 maps was:
‘too numerous, and each cover too small an area, for any of them to constitute a “submission proposals map” as defined in the 2004 Regulations. On the other hand, [this] cannot, of itself, be a Submission Proposals Map because it does not set out all the changes that would be made to the adopted proposals map if the CS as submitted were to be adopted, as required by Regulations 6(1)(b) and 6(5) of the 2004 Regulations: in particular, [it] does not set out any of the changes…to the Green Belt boundary.’
This is easily dealt with by simply describing the maps as ‘submission proposals map’ and making this comprehensive. If this becomes large and complex it may be best to play safe and produce a plan wide map showing the changes.
The second issue concerns deletion of an east of Luton bypass from the CS, it was caught by the spending review, but not re-consulting the consultation bodies since 2009 on the transport implications of this. The implications of this are clear. If modelling etc depends on schemes not dropped they will need to be reassessed.
The third point relates to an amended SCI in March 2011 which deletes an omissions site consultation stage. Oddly Mr Village doesn’t raise the key legal problem here (referring to it only as a procedural soundness issue) which is concerning assessment of reasonable alternatives under the SEA directive).
The final point is a killer. The Joint committee had proceeded on the basis that the abolition of the RSS was material. At the time Mr Village wrote his letter we dint know the outcome of the Court of Appeal in Cala II. Now we do know.
The report said
“… the revocation of the [RS] means less housing is proposed. Together with the reduction in the plan period, this results in a substantial drop (over ten thousand houses) in the requirement”
Although they said that the proposed revocation was taken into account they also oddly claimed that you could still delete 10,000 homes and be ‘in general conformity’
Of the four issues this is the only one which relates to soundness and not legality.
The joint committee seem to believe that they only need to make minor changes, which under the first three issues may need to be the case. And with the inspector not wishing them to make major changes at this stage without resubmission they are home and dry. Not so the inspector was right to suggest major changes could not be made at this stage as that is contrary to guidance. But if 10,000 houses short of RSS cannot make a plan unsound nothing else can. the Joint committee is at risk of having an unsound plan.
Also looking at the environment report on the submitted plan it specifically did not assess the RSS level of growth, which was in the preferred option, as a ‘reasonable alternative’. To my mind that is a straightforward breach of the SEA directive, it doesnt matter if you SA’d it before, what matters is the environment report consulkted on and backing up the plan submission decision.
The lesson is clear any LPA which has submitted a DPD taking into account the proposed revocation will be contrary to CALA II. What is more they will run into lawfulness issues if they didnt SEA the RSS level of growth as a reasonable alternative.