Confused you will be. Further correspondence from the Boles Pitt Show now has its own webpage. Perhaps Nick Boles will soon be posting one for his love letters next, or one of letters to his mum asking for more tuck.
Anyway the original letter is there, Pitts reply and Boles reply to the reply. Boles original letter of the 3rd March could be read in several ways. By concern over ‘use of language’ did he solely mean the slightly sharp tone (not the worst of crimes surely it is better for an inspector to be sharp and clear than obtuse and overly diplomatic, and this report on Green Belt Reviews being selective, limited and sustainable is far better than many as I have said here on this blog before). Did the phrase ‘it must be transparently clear that [lpas] have chose that path (Green Belt reviews). ‘ Mean that the issue was solely one of wording – the pretense that LPAs are choosing to delete Green Belt when of course they only normally choose to do so under duress of an adverse finding of soundness. The issue is made worse by the fourth para. indicating that the SOS could use powers of intervention where ‘a planning inspector has recommended a green belt review that is not supported by a local planning authority’, mean that where an LPA falls short of housing need and cannot persuade others to take it that the inspector cannot then say the plan would be unsound without considering the potential of Green Belt sites. Must they then simply rubber stamp the plan and push the overspill out, which the NPPF says might not be the most sustainable option?
The confusion, of Boles saying, like the NPPF, 2 different and not reconciled things at once is evidenced in Bole’s reply to Pitt.
Pitt says, in his 6th March Letter, he understands, likely from a meeting, that the wording is the concern, seeming to instruct the LPA to delete Green Belt. So rather than saying you must delete it, it would be ok then to say, aha you have chosen to delete Green Belt good o. Pitt rightly asks the questions asked by his inspector’s
after reading your letter Inspectors now ·seek confirmation that in local plan examinations they should continue to question local planning authorities to determine the extent to which they have followed guidance in paragraphs 14 and 83-85 of the Framework when seeking to meet the needs of their area including objectively assessed housing needs in accordance with paragraph 47 of the Framework.
The ‘have we been getting it wrong all the time, or have you changed policy’ question.
Bole’s replies in a letter of the 13th March.
As you rightly note, my letter of 3 March set out concerns over the Inspector’s use of language which invited misinterpretation of Government policy. It did not signal a change of policy or approach. Inspectors in Local Plan examinations should continue to determine whether local planning authorities have followed the National Planning Policy Framework in seeking to meet the objectively assessed development needs of their area.
The problem is the 3rd of March letter logically and forensically says two things. Firstly it criticises the inspector for letter the cat out of the bag about the true origins of Green Belt reviews and deletions – the government. Implying say i’m making you review, and of course I am making you review because of government policy, but I cannot say im making you review because of government policy. Even if logically it can only be Professor Plum in the library in the envelope Professor Plum is now claiming he was holiday in Benidorm and his butler did it.
The second thing the 3rd of March letter did is criticise inspectors for recommending Green Belt reviews (not deletions simply reviews) not chosen by LPAs. Now this is confusing because it implies that where a plan falls short an inspector cannot then recommend a GB review. They might be able to say something jesuitical like ‘the evidence before be shows that the LPA has a shortfall of housing land…blah blah blah.. and has not explored all the options available…therefore the LPA has not met the requirements of the NPPF and I am not yet in a position to find the plan sound.’ The LPa asks – does that mean a GB review, to which the inspector says ‘that is your choice, as clarified by the Planning minister’ so the plan just lies there not sound until the LPA ‘chooses’ to undertake one.
There are three interpretations of the outright contradiction between the 3rd March and 30th March letters. The first is as above, Boles whilst seeming to protect the Green Belt is solely hiding the strings pulling PINS, the para immediately above theory. The second is the cock up theory. Boles didn’t mean to say he would intervene on Green Belt Reviews (reviews are just studies) but on the outcome of reviews i.e. Green Belt deletions. The letter of the 3rd reads like it was dictated to a secretary without much thought, perhaps Boles did not understand the difference between a GB review and plan changes arising from that review. The third possibility and the most intriguing, it is a carefully planned cock up where this and even the infamous missing comma in gold guidance, and the confusion between exceptional circumstances test and the very special circumstances test, is a expertly crafted plot by planning lawyer and MP Bob Neil to calculatedly delay all Green Belt deletions in the courts for a year to get past the next election. Perhaps a plot cooked up over a single malt with Gideon in his office. Planning lawyers and officers, let alone Cllrs, will be scratching their heads now as to what to do with GB reviews on a Juggernaut path. Masterstroke or clusterfuck, you decide.
Note: Boles does not answer Pitts question directly about whether inspectors should test plans against paras 83-85 of the NPPF on Green Belt.