There is not a huge amount of activity since the Examination in Public hearings which took place in November. The hearings themselves were very interesting, the Inspector was very fair and gave us “non professionals” a lot of leeway in order to allow us to make our points. It was the first and only opportunity for us to ask questions directly of the Head of Planning. Mr Ridley appeared to be greatly discomforted by this and after a very short while SCDC’s barrister stepped in and took over.
Much was said in relation to the Sustainability Appraisal of alternative sites or rather the lack of an SA being available to Councillors before they made the decision in March 2010 to double the number of houses to 2000 at the BT site. The lack of an SA meant that SCDC was not compliant with EU directives and was one of the planks of our legal arguments. After much correspondence between NANT and SCDC, an appendix was quietly slipped in to the August 2011 SA purporting to be an SA of alternative sites, carried out in January 2010. SCDC tried to create the impression that because this document was dated January 2010 the councillors were aware of it before they made their decision. During the hearings, Mr Ridley was forced to admit that this was not so. He admitted that it was his personal decision not to put this appraisal in front of the Councillors in 2010. He was not able to provide a plausible explanation, however it is worth mentioning that the SA concluded that of the alternative options considered, the BT site was the least sustainable. The councillors were therefore unaware of this when they decided to double the housing allocation at Ad Park to be in line with the BT planning application.
An other element of the legal challenge was the lack of certainty surrounding the provision of mitigation made necessary by allocating 2000 houses in close proximity to the internationally protected sites in the Deben Estuary. Natural England and the Appropriate Assessment have always indicated that a suite of mitigation measures were necessary and, in addition to the “onsite” mitigation, provision of a Country Park or similar was also required. SCDC spent much time trying to argue that identifying a Country Park or similar was not required at the Core Strategy stage. We had argued that EU law stated that there must be certainty. This point was picked up by the Inspector who asked SCDC to provide details of the planned Country Park or similar provision. This caused SCDC much consternation as they rushed around producing vague lists of possible green sites in the area. However, at the hearing, BT announced that the “Country Park” could be accommodated within the BT development. They argued that in order to do this it was not necessary to increase the amount of greenspce already shown within the planning application, they could simply change the name of an area labelled “dog walking provision” and call it a “Country Park”. Natural England offered no resistance to this last minute change.
There was also much discussion on the total housing need for the District. The developers representatives made much of the Oxford study (available here) which estimated that 11,000 houses were needed in the District whereas SCDC were allocating fewer than 8000.
So, the Hearings ended and the Inspector was left to consider all that he had heard. He has since written on several matters – here is a link to SCDC website for all the correspondence.
A couple of things are worth highlighting :
- The RSS (regional spatial strategy) was officially revoked on January 3rd. In reality this now has little impact in that the revocation process has been underway since 2010. The RSS had previously imposed housing numbers on the Region. SCDC had hidden behind this and used it as an excuse for not being able to distribute houses as they would wish. When the revocation process started SCDC had the opportunity to reassess the housing need from the “bottom up”. They failed to take that opportunity. Now the RSS has formally been revoked through Act of Parliament, SCDC again has the opportunity to review the housing need for the District. They have indicated that this is not their intention. However, it was reported yesterday that other Councils in the region are doing just that. Tendring for example has announced a significant reduction of its housing targets.
- Here is the letter from the Inspector regarding this. 171212 RS revocation He is inviting comments from those who have previously made representations. If you wish to make a comment please do so before Monday 21st January – see the details in the letter. It is very short notice but the Council are meeting to discuss this tomorrow, Thursday 17th at 2pm. Venue: Riverside Centre, Stratford St Andrew. As usual the public will not be able to speak but you may wish to attend. I have also attached another letter from the Inspector to SCDC sent after the Hearings 7-12-12-post-hearings . Where, amongst other things he asks the Council to pay particular attention to the review of the Sustainability Appraisal for all alternative sites. The Inspector has also issued a notice (on SCDC website) distancing himself from the views expressed by Smith and Ridley in the recently issued press release.
So, where do we go from here?
The Council will have its meeting tomorrow. It must hold a Public Consultation on the “Main Modifications” that have been made to the core strategy. It must also hold a public consultation on the new/revised Sustainability Appraisal. The comments, particularly on the SA will go in full to the Inspector. We will let you know as soon as the dates are known.