A further comment on Roy Foster’s interim findings (not a final finding of unsoundness I stress to Planning Resource) in Uttlesford focusing on his findings on the Elsenham new settlement (a village expanded to become a small town).
As a very rural area with only villages and small towns this was the only site in the district which could have a major housing site accessed by rail. There is always the objections that with every rail station near but outside London the vast majority of trips will still be by car. However this site is unique. The terminus at one end of the line is London, the other is Cambridge and Stansted airport is 15 mins down the line. Jobs would be almost uniquely accessible by rail.
Lets look at his objections to the site which seem lifted without analysis or critical interpretation directly from local objectors.
NPPF para 34 says that “Plans …….. should ensure that developments that generate significant movement are located where the need to travel will be minimised and the use of sustainable transport modes will be maximised.”
Cleary this is the most accessible site in the District so how Mr Inspector will this site fail the test?
‘Most travel will be on rural roads heading mainly west towards Stansted Mountfitchet through roads clearly unsuited for the purpose, or south through the Countryside Protection Zone via the
longer route of Hall road to the airport and destinations along the A120.’
Did he read the WSP TIA with its trip distribution model and proposed signage and other measures to focus traffic onto Hall Road? Did he not see the statements of Essex County Council who had no objection. Undoubtedly the Highways Agency were most unhelpful in not properly modelling the impact on Junction 8 of the M11 after the mid 2020s – this urgently needs a more strategic approach along the M40 by the HA one driven by offering solutions not vague commentary. In any event the evidence was proportional and covered teh first 10 year allocation period.
The problem is the inspector has set teh bar so high that even Letchworth and EGC would have failed it, as would almost any railed based Garden City in the South East. The inspector was unclear did it fail the NPPF test – either the location test, the best plan in the circumstances test or the evidence test or some combination.
The isnpector is even worse on the ‘alternatives’ none of which are remotely as accessible.
It is not clear that transparent consideration of other ‘new settlement’ options took place before the very high level, broad brush comparative Sustainability Assessment (SA) of January 2010, acknowledged by the Council as ‘not a full SA’. No further SA of other possible ‘new settlement’ options took place until June 2014 after the plan had been submitted despite the promoters of other options developing their schemes
to varying extents of detail in the intervening period. Whether or not his retrospective exercise meets the requirements of the SEA Regulations as interpreted by subsequent case law, it is questionable whether the Council considered the claims of other candidate locations for growth (‘new
settlement’ or otherwise) to the transparent extent required to constitute ‘proportionate evidence’ justifying Elsenham as such a major element of
what is declared to be the ‘most appropriate strategy’.
The inspector here confuses two issues. The need to consult at an ‘early stage’, and the need to consider ‘realistioc alternatives’. Uttlesford were clearly at fauly in not doing a full SEA and consulting on it prior to submission. However the LPA is only required to consider ‘realistic alternatives’ and the others were prosperous. The LPA had already in full cosnidered a fully dispersed options, after wavering for a moment over the Elsenham option and trying to fix the plan start date so it could not deliver to the extent required over iots first 10 years (which was shot down by a letter from the DCLG).
What should have happened is for the inspector to require a fresh SEA consultation – and the LPA to (even now) exercise its powers under the act top require of the inspector all modification necessary to make the plan sound. The Inspector cannopt refuse (even if their is a lack of evidence) due to poor drafting of the act.