Sensibly keeping to adoption recommendation – sensible and they had no other legal choice, even if they wanted to withdraw they would have to adopt first. BUT the ‘unequivocal’ legal advice from Richard Harwood QC was before the release of Chrispin Blunt MPs statement on the meeting with Boles (which clearly implied that the GB would be untouched in his constituency) and the leaking of the secret instructions to Inspectors on this website which showed that there had been a change in policy.
Two options are presented in the Executive Report in relation to the Core Strategy: to adopt the Core Strategy, or not to adopt it. Legal advice has confirmed that these two broad options remain the only real ones that the Council has.
Option 1: To approve the Core Strategy for adoption: The Inspector’s recommended modifications to make the Core Strategy sound, insofar as they relate to the broad scale and location of sustainable urban extensions, are consistent with what has been agreed by the Council, as is his recommendation that a Green Belt Review will need to be undertaken as part of the Development Management Policies planning document. In addition, it has been confirmed that the requirement to balance competing policy objectives including housing need and Green Belt protection (which the Core Strategy seeks to do) remains a central part of national policy.
Option 2: Not to adopt the Core Strategy as currently proposed: This is what legal advice has described as ‘the nuclear option’. The Core Strategy has been found to be sound and legally compliant. Legal advice confirms that the Council cannot adopt a Core Strategy that is materially different from that recommended by the Planning Inspector. For any substantive changes to be made by the Council (such as removal of references to sustainable urban extensions, or a change to the housing number), the Core Strategy would have to be withdrawn for a second time. This would effectively mean going back to the drawing board.
The fact that it does indicate a change in policy (rather embarrassing to the QC) is made clear in the letter of Banglow Bob Kerslake to thee R&B CE.
I want to put beyond doubt that the final plan reflects the choices and decisions taken by your local authority. The Government has maintained strong protections for the Green Belt, while supporting local authorities that choose to undertake locally led reviews through the Local Plan process. It is unfortunate that the drafting of the Inspector’s report in this case has been misinterpreted in the media as imposing Green Belt development on your Council.
This is an unprecedented intervention by a head of the civil service in a local plan examination. The CE responded.
I am writing to you to register my great concern concerning recent developments surrounding the impending adoption of the Council’s Core Strategy. I am also replying to your letter to me of 28 February.
It has been drawn to my attention that Crispin Blunt MP wrote to Conservative Members of our Council yesterday to tell them that he has arranged a meeting with the Planning Minister tomorrow, with a view to asking the Secretary of State to make changes to the Council’s Core Strategy by striking out reference to the proposed development of greenfield sites that will be needed to ensure that the Borough can maintain its housing land supply. He is also seeking to reduce the housing target to 350 new homes a year from the current 460. Central to this is Mr Blunt’s interpretation of Nick Boles’ letter last week to the Planning Inspectorate and his Written Statement introducing practice guidance, which Crispin Blunt takes to mean that Green Belt trumps the NPPF requirement for authorities to plan positively to meet objectively assessed housing need.
It is of great concern that an objector to the Core Strategy can seek to circumvent the plan preparation process in this way, by arranging a meeting with the Planning Minister and seeking to influence changes to the Core Strategy that have not been considered through the democratic process.
After the meeting with Boles, Kerslake and Quartermain it was clear that Blunt’s interpretation s in no way disabused.
In response to your letter of 28 February, I can confirm that the final plan reflects the choices and decisions taken by the Council to strike that balance. The reference to Green Belt sites being needed as a back-up to the housing land supply has always formed part of the Core Strategy. The modifications made in response to the Inspector’s concerns during the course
of the examination went a step further and identified the broad areas of search for sustainable urban extensions in the Green Belt. These modifications also had the support of the Executive and full Council.
But this is not quite the case is it. The first CS was found unsound because as a fudge in the midst of the process R&B added a clause about a Green Belt review at some unspecified point covering unspecified locations, and only did so because of the fear of being found unsound. The inspector felt this was not enough. If the ‘Blunt option’ was open to them – a constraint led housing target – then the full council as a whole might have voted for a different plan. Of course the executive cllr and the leader invested a lot of capital in following what they thought was government policy. What shocked me was that Bungalow Bob and anchorman seemed to have little idea on how the R&B plan came about! All they needed to do was pick up the phone to Steve Clark, of of our most distinguished planners, who was interim head at R&B during when the plan was first put to examination. It gives the impression that since the abolition of regional offices and the temporary abolition of the local plan database at DCLG they had very little idea of what was going on the ground and could not brief ministers on that – so ministers naturally panicked when the egg hit the fan. Especially when Boles was likely given an instruction by the PM to save the Green Belt in that nice chap Chrispin Blunt’s constituency.