Taken as a whole throughout the preparation period from 2011 to August 2016 it appears that cooperation was structured and frequent. Whilst there may have been some loss of focus on strategic planning matters between 2014 and the early part of 2016, activity did not come to a complete stop. There is no chronological record of what took place when but the picture painted by all those involved is one of active and more or less on-going engagement.
However the information provided is weaker in showing how cooperation actually influenced the New Local Plan.
The New Local Plan is based on an objectively assessed need for housing of 400 dwellings per annum. Paragraph 13.22 recognises that the target for new homes does not equate with this but it reflects the capacity of the Borough to accommodate growth. A subsequent updated Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) in May 2016 gives a range for objectively assessed need of between 326-410 dwellings per annum. Be that as it may the draft New Local Plan proceeded on the basis of providing 200 dwellings per annum but this was reduced to 100 dwellings after the failure of the Task and Finish Group to reach agreement on the release of Green Belt land for housing in November 2015.
As far as the Council is concerned no amount of further conversations would have altered the difficulties in meeting its objectively assessed needs within its boundaries.
- The questions of whether the strategy for housing is the most appropriate one and therefore justified and whether it is consistent with national policy, including paragraph 14 of the NPPF, are soundness ones. However, paragraph 179 of the NPPF provides that:
Joint working should enable local planning authorities to work together to meet development requirements which cannot wholly be met within their own areas – for instance, because of a lack of physical capacity or because to do so would cause significant harm to the principles and policies of this Framework.
This is precisely the situation in Castle Point. Indeed, the officer report of July 2014 which set out the full document representations on the draft New Local Plan (CP/05/008) includes the following as an action point:
Given that the Council has not been able to identify a sufficient supply of housing to meet its objectively assessed needs, it is also necessary to engage with neighbouring authorities under the auspices of the Duty to Cooperate in order to determine how the objectively assessed need for housing, and other strategic matters, will be addressed within the housing market area.
- However, notwithstanding the lengthy and detailed engagement across south Essex there is no formal mechanism in place to distribute unmet housing need. In order to comply with the duty there is no requirement for this to be done by any particular means. Indeed, the outcome of joint working in this respect could take a variety of forms and it is not for me to say what they should be. Nevertheless, the position is that there is simply nothing in the New Local Plan to indicate how the unmet need for housing will be tackled. This is because the authorities have not yet deliberated about the matter in any meaningful way. Therefore the question of how the objectively assessed need will be addressed, as raised by officers in 2014, has not been adequately grappled with.
- The Council is now anxious to ensure that the delivery of its objectively assessed needs is addressed with neighbouring authorities and intends to play a full and active part through the various DtC mechanisms that are now operating. There is no reason to doubt this but a failure to demonstrate compliance cannot be corrected after submission (PPG ID 9-018-20140306).
There is no duty to agree (PPG ID 9-00320140306). However, whilst it might be firmly in view now, there is no clear evidence that consideration of this admittedly difficult issue was attempted as part of the preparation of the New Local Plan. Within that process it has been treated as an ‘afterthought’.
all the indications are that in this respect the Council decided to ‘plough its own furrow’. Failing to address the wider impact of its ‘last minute’ decision to lower the housing target by a considerable amount is the very opposite of cooperation in plan preparation.
the Council fell well short of making every effort to secure the necessary cooperation on the strategic cross-boundary matter of housing before submitting the New Local Plan for examination. The engagement undertaken as part of its preparation was fundamentally flawed.
Whilst the Borough may not hold all or any of the answers to the shortage of (travellers) pitches in Basildon it should attempt to play its part. Ultimately it might be that providing more traveller sites in Castle Point is not the best planned solution but there is a duty on the Council to try. In preparing the New Local Plan it simply has not done enough in this respect and there has been a DtC failing.
In specific terms the housing policies have failed to address how unmet need will be dealt with across the housing market area. This is exacerbated by the lack of consideration of this matter when reducing the housing target by 50%.
However, there have been fundamental shortcomings in the steps taken, or not taken, to secure the necessary cooperation on the strategic cross-boundary matter of housing. In addition, the Council has not made every effort to consider how it might deal with the significant unmet need for traveller sites in south Essex arising, in particular, from Basildon.
Therefore my final conclusion is that the duty to cooperate has not been complied with. Clearly this is not the outcome that the Council would have wanted and it is not a view I have reached lightly or without full consideration of the material put to me.
Nevertheless I must recommend non-adoption of the New Local Plan under Section 20(7A) of the 2004 Act. In this situation the PPG advises that the most appropriate course of action is likely to be for the local planning authority to withdraw the plan under Section 22 and engage in necessary discussions and actions with others. That is the course of action I would favour. The alternative is to receive my report but the content of this would be substantially the same as this letter.