East Cambs fails to publish unsoundness finding, inspector goes postal, issue is under standard method old plans easier to pass 5 YHLS

East Cambs Inspector

25 Jan

I am disappointed that following several requests, my Programme Officer is still unable to upload my letter to the Council of 19 December 2018.
It is now over a month since I sent my original letter, which in the interests of transparency, should have been placed on the Examination website.
I have asked for this to happen on numerous occasions. As, no doubt, you are aware, this situation is highly irregular.
Please ensure that the Programme Officer’s job is facilitated and the letter is uploaded today and without delay.
Over seven weeks have elapsed, since my letter to the Council of
5 December 2018, which stated that I found that the plan was unsound but
could be found sound with main modifications. The Programme Officer has, and no doubt, will be receiving further enquiries as to the progress of the Plan.
In such circumstances, I have instructed the Programme Officer, who works independently of the Council, to respond that a letter has been sent to the Council setting out what I consider to be the main modifications which would be required in order that the Plan be found sound. If a request is made for a copy of the letter, clearly the Programme Officer will provide such a letter as it should be in the public arena, and indeed, I have explicitly asked that it be so.
I understand from email correspondence, via the Programme Officer, that the Council is still considering the implications of the potential main modifications.

8 Feb

In early December, following the hearing sessions, and taking into account all representations, hearing statements, together with my site visits, I came to the conclusion that the Plan as submitted was unsound. However, I was of the opinion that with modifications it could be capable of being found sound. I informed the Council of this in my letter of 5 December 2018.
I sent a further letter on 19 December 2018. This set out where the main
modifications were required and requested that the Council work these up to form a schedule of modifications, which could then be formally consulted upon. This would
have enabled me, with the benefit of any consultation responses, to write my final report to the Council which would have included the main modifications necessary for the Plan to be found.
Unfortunately, as the Council has given no firm indication to date that it intends to progress work on a schedule of modifications and has not replied to my previous requests for confirmation that it would do so, I am unable to move forward with my examination of the submitted Plan which must take place in an open and transparent
fashion.

Whats the reason for the delay?  See this report

Normally, and in line with the procedural guide, officers work collaboratively with an Inspector so that common ground is reached on what modifications are likely necessary to a Plan. In practice, around 98-100% of modifications are normally
‘agreed’, either in principle or in precise detail, as part of the hearing sessions themselves i.e. they are debated and ‘agreed’ in the public forum, even for those matters which a Council might not ideally want the modification, but accepts the
need for it for a Plan to be found sound. To put it another way, an Inspector rarely springs surprises on a council, post hearing sessions. If that happens, it is usually for a very small number of modifications, on matters where it was clear that agreement could not be reached on the day, and the Inspector would therefore have to make a ‘final call’.
3.10 Our Inspector did not undertake the examination in this way.
3.11 After most hearing sitting days, participants (including the Council) were left wondering what the Inspector was going to do about matters debated that day. Agreements were often not reached, or a suggested way forward not given by the Inspector. The Inspector catch phrase became ‘I have a lot of thinking to do on that matter’.

3.12 As such, officers:
 struggled to know what modifications might be necessary;
 for many policy areas, had no opportunity to discuss with the Inspector
whether such modifications were indeed necessary, or what form of
wording they should take.
This is highly unusual, and, whilst not unlawful, not in accordance with the
procedural guide.
3.13 Thus, throughout the process, officers were frustrated by both the slow speed of the examination and the considerable uncertainty as to where matters were
heading, and what modifications might be necessary.
3.14 At the close of the Hearing sessions (end of September 2018 in our case), it is normal practice for the full set of modifications to be known, perhaps subject to some detailed refinement of wording to be agreed with the Inspector on a small number of matters. Consultation on such modifications then normally takes place within 2-3 weeks of the hearings closing. In our case, that would mean an October-November 2018 consultation.
3.15 Unfortunately, our examination did not follow this normal procedure.
3.16 First, officers were left wondering what modifications might be necessary.
Second, we did not hear from the Inspector, in any meaningful way, until
December, approaching 3 months after hearings closed.
3.17 In December, the Council then received the ‘good news’ letter of 5th December 2018, which confirmed that, subject to (then unspecified) modifications, the Plan
was capable of being made sound i.e. it was suitable for adoption, provided her modifications were accepted by the Council. That letter meant that the Plan had been prepared in a lawful manner i.e. it had been prepared in accordance with all applicable legislation, consulted upon appropriately and met the Duty t
Cooperate provisions. However, we still did not know the extent of what the modifications might be.
3.18 Finally, on 19th December 2019, the Council received a letter from the Inspector,
nearly 3 months after the Hearings closed, setting out what modifications were, subject to consultation, necessary to make the plan sound. That letter is attached at appendix A.
3.19 The content of the letter raised considerable concerns, for five prime reasons:
(i) the sheer scale of modifications the Inspector feels necessary;
(ii) the lack of explanation or reasoning for the modifications (especially those
which the Council was previously unaware of);
(iii) the consequence of the modifications, which go to the heart of (or rather
take away the heart of) the Plan prepared by the Council;
Agenda Item 14 – page 4
(iv) the lack of ability for the Council to attempt to reach a consensual
agreement to the potential modifications necessary (as would normally be
the case); and
(v) the questionable basis of whether many of the modifications are truly
necessary (and whether the Inspector is, instead, trying to ‘improve’ the
plan, rather than focussing entirely on soundness matters which go to the
heart of the plan).

The following summarises some of the more fundamental ‘modifications’ required
by the Inspector, together with some brief officer comments.
 All reference to community-led / CLT development be removed from the Plan –
both ‘in principle’ supporting policy, and sites allocated for such forms of
development. No reasons are given by the Inspector as to why such policies are ‘unsound’ (nor, for that matter, why her decision contradicts the previous
Inspector examining our 2015 Local Plan, who found the principles of such
policies to be sound).
The redistribution of housing across the Cambridge sub-region (as agreed by all Councils of the sub-region) be removed, resulting in 1,500 homes increase to East Cambridgeshire. Inspectors concluding other Cambridgeshire plans in 2018 (Cambridge and South Cambs) and the almost finalised plan in 2019 (Huntingdonshire), all accept the redistribution and cooperation associated with it to be sound. Our 2015 Local Plan Inspector also found it sound….

ALthough the lack of communication is worrying the striking down of the Cmbridgeshire redribution is even more worrying as this was critical in getting the deal on numbers done.

Council should be mindful of an important implication which will arise, if the recommendations attached are agreed.
3.29 As a reminder, the Council has struggled since June 2015 to be able to demonstrate a ‘five year land supply’ as required by national policy, with two appeal decisions (in 2015 and again in 2018) going against the Council. The overriding reason why the Council has been unable to demonstrate a five year land supply is not due to a lack of permissions given by this Council or a lack of allocations in our Local Plan (we have approximately 9 years’ worth of immediately available supply on that count), but due to the lack of delivery of homes on the ground. Where homes are not built, national policy requires the  Agenda Item 14 – page 7
‘backlog numbers’ to be added to the next five years. As each year passes, the backlog increases, to the point whereby it becomes virtually impossible to regain a five year land supply (for example, we would need to be building approximately 1,200 homes per year, for the next few years, to ever ‘catch up’, a 400% increase on current build rates).
3.30 If the Council decides to proceed with the current emerging plan (i.e. it accepts the Inspector’s modifications and does not withdraw the plan), it is possible that the Local Plan can be adopted by Autumn 2019 (having taken into account the next procedural steps required). At that point (but not before), we would have a
Five Year Land Supply. However, as highlighted in this report, there would be a considerable risk of that position being lost again in the not too distant future, because the Inspector has: (a) increased the overall housing numbers; (b) removed our policy to spread any backlog over the whole plan (and instead made
it, in effect, compulsory to make it up in the first five years); and (c) has
unrealistically increased housing numbers on allocation sites. Policy within the NPPF will probably mean our five year land supply will be secure, post adoption, until 31st October 2020 (i.e. for about a year after adoption), but realistically the Inspector modifications are likely to make it very hard to sustain a five year land supply beyond that date.
3.31 Thus, in simple terms, proceeding to adopt the Plan will likely mean a five year land supply position is secured from Autumn 2019 to October 2020, but unlikely beyond that date.

3.32 If the Plan is withdrawn, we obviously would continue to have no Five Year Land Supply for the present time.
3.33 However, under the ‘withdraw’ option, and perhaps surprisingly, when we reach April 2020 we almost certainly will, under current national policy, regain our five year land supply position. This is because new (autumn 2018) national policy states that, when a Local Plan is 5 years old (which ours will be, come April 2020), any ‘backlog’ of development not built gets wiped clean (the precise reference for this policy being NPPG Paragraph ID: 2a 017 20180913).

Totally peverse.  The para reference refers to every para in that guidance but the issue is the ‘cap’ which is based on the annual rate, and should be withdrawn or irgently clarified it is the average plus the backlog.

 

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