Derbyshire council suspends local plan examination

Out-Law News | 01 Aug 2014 | 5:03 pm | 2 min. read

Examination of the key planning document for a Derbyshire council has been suspended after a planning inspector raised concerns that it could not be found sound.

Derbyshire Dales District Council submitted its local plan to the secretary of state for communities and local government for examination in May. In a note to the Council (10-page / 87 KB PDF) following examination hearings on 22 and 23 July, planning inspector Paul Holland expressed concerns over the Council's assessment of housing need, its efforts to co-operate with neighbouring authorities and its consultation with the public, concluding that the plan "will not be found sound in its current form".

The inspector disagreed with the Council's target to provide 4,400 homes in the district between 2006 and 2028, which was based on figures from a revoked regional strategy. "In my view, neither the evidence that I have seen nor the sustainability work clearly points to 4,400 as being the appropriate balance", wrote Holland.

The inspector noted that a strategic housing land availability assessment carried out by the Council in November 2013 suggested 6,419 dwellings could be delivered in the plan period, a figure close to the Office of National Statistics' 2011 projection of 6,380 dwellings. Taking into account the housing backlog in the district and the Council's strategic objectives for economic growth, Holland concluded that "the [objectively assessed need for housing] for this area is likely to be at least 6,500 for the plan period".

Holland was also critical of the Council's approach to its duty to co-operate with neighbouring local authorities over strategic issues. The Council had initially worked together with neighbouring High Peak District Council on a joint core strategy and the two authorities had taken the view that they could meet their housing requirements without help from any additional councils. This view was mistaken, said Holland, "as it is very unlikely that these two authorities would in combination be able to meet the objectively assessed need for the two areas given that both authorities are areas with sensitive landscapes".

The inspector noted that the Council had eventually made a request to surrounding local authorities in the Derby housing market area (HMA) in March 2014, but that its approach was rebuffed due to the fact that the local plans of the three councils in the HMA were at an advanced stage and had "been developed on a clear understanding that Derbyshire Dales had no need to decant any housing requirements into the housing market area".

"Albeit late in the day, the Council did seek help to address the anticipated unmet housing need before submitting the plan for examination," said Holland. "Hence I do not consider that the Council has failed the legal test relating to the duty. However, the Council has comprehensively failed to achieve effective co-operation."

The inspector also raised concerns that the public had not had been consulted on modifications to the plan made following its submission for examination and that the plan was not clear enough in its explanation of housing targets.

The Council confirmed in a statement that "we consider it is appropriate not to continue with the examination as scheduled". The Council has not yet decided whether to attempt to make the necessary modifications to the plan while examination is suspended or withdraw the plan for resubmission at a later date.

Paul Wilson, corporate director for the Council said: "While the Council is naturally disappointed, it makes sense at this stage to take heed of Mr Holland's advice and consider potential options for moving forward the local plan before making any further public announcement. These options will be presented to councillors for decision, probably later this year".