Telford and Wrekin Local Plan – Lack of Audit Trail over Site Selection Process After Council ‘Loses Spreadsheet’

Shropshire Star   – Inspectors Note

It is pretty clear that a ‘smoke filled’ room process occurred behind closed doors with Cllrs where political rather than policy issues dominated – something the post 2004 Act changes was designed to eliminate.

The authority has been asked to review several aspects of its local plan, with Government Inspector Michael Hetherington warning that the selection of sites for housing is “flawed”.

Telford & Wrekin Council’s local plan covers its aspirations for the economy, jobs, growth and housing development up until 2031. It identifies sites where certain types of development can take place.

An interim examination of the plan has identified concerns over the predicted level of job creation and supporting evidence for the choice of housing sites.

The council’s deputy leader Councillor Richard Overton said it was normal procedure for issues to be raised before the final plan is approved.

The inspector stated: “I advised that I would contact the council if I identified serious soundness concerns with the potential to affect the examination programme. Unfortunately I have identified such concerns. The purpose of this note is to highlight the issues involved and to suggest possible courses of action to enable the examination to proceed.

“For the avoidance of doubt, all comments set out in this note are interim only and are made subject to the contents of my final report.”

“It has been seven years since the Labour administration took back control of the council, but despite our continued and robust warnings over the urgent need for renewed and updated planning policies, they have done little but sat back and twiddle their thumbs. Only over the past three they have tried to cobble planning policies together which have now crashed around their ears, leaving our communities reeling from unwanted and disproportionate housing development.

“The inspector has agreed with my group’s submission to the inquiry that the level of forecast jobs growth, which is 40 per cent above what is predicted nationally, cannot be supported by enough workers and is “insufficiently robust”, Councillor Eade said.

But Councillor Overton said: “It is hard to guess what is going to happen in 2031 and the government has even recognised that and they are supposed to be bringing forward some options in the autumn to make it easier for councils.

“We are the second biggest growing town in the West Midlands and UK because of our business winning, business supporting council attitude. We have seen the likes of Magna come to this town creating hundreds of jobs.”

He said that there were a number of sites in public ownership had been given the planning permission many years ago and that there were brownfield sites for development that were due to be reviewed.

Councillor Overton said the inspector had given the council an opportunity to address his concerns before the final submission is made.

The Inspectors Note is scathing

…at the Matter 8 Hearing session, your officers offered to table working spreadsheets that would give more information about how the Council reached its decisions in this regard. I accepted that suggestion and allowed other parties the opportunity to make representations accordingly. However, the document that was subsequently produced5 was not the working spreadsheet that had originally been offered. Instead it represents a commentary, apparently prepared after the event, that seeks to apply planning considerations to some (but not all) of the sites that were considered at the ‘strategic fit’ stage of the site assessment process. I have now been advised that the Council is unable to find the spreadsheets that were apparently referred to at the hearing session .

I note the Council’s responses to the specific comments made by representors in respect of this additional evidence7 . For the avoidance of doubt, the present note does not seek to comment on the detailed scores that have been assigned to specific sites in the IA. However, I share a general concern raised by some parties in respect of strategic fit criterion 2 (promoting sustainable urban extensions) that it is not immediately clear why some large sites (notably those that have been allocated) were given a positive score in respect of that criterion while other large sites – also adjoining the urban area – were deemed to not comprise a sustainable urban extension. To my mind, a more robust approach – in the light of the strategic option that has been pursued for the Local Plan’s spatial strategy – would have been to evaluate larger sites for potential  urban extensions in a more detailed manner examining their comparative strengths and weaknesses.

Lets be clear about this.  A local plan appraises the strengths and wekanesses of alternative growth options and chooses the best – it didnt even do this there was no evidence.

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