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Inspector finds Essex plan unsound over housing figures and failure properly to consider alternative settlement sites

Out-Law News | 05 Dec 2014 | 5:00 pm | 2 min. read

An independent planning inspector has found an Essex council's draft local plan unsound, after concluding that the stated housing need and the consideration of options for a new settlement in the district were not compliant with government guidance.

Uttlesford District Council submitted the draft Uttlesford local plan (ULP) for examination in July. The ULP, which was intended to guide planning decisions in the district until 2031, proposed the delivery of 10,460 homes at an average rate of 523 homes per year and allocated a site near the village of Elsenham for a new settlement of 2,100 homes.

Following examination hearings in November and early December, examining inspector Roy Foster wrote to the Council (4-page / 53 KB PDF) this week to recommend that the draft ULP be withdrawn and that a revised plan be prepared.

The Council had set the district's dwelling requirements between the 508 dwellings per year (dpy) indicated by household formation statistics from 2011 and the 549 dpy indicated by figures from 2008. Foster said that the resulting figure of 523 dpy was "an appropriate starting point, allowing for some return towards long-term pre-recession trends and avoiding embedding post-recessionary conditions".

However, the inspector noted that the government's planning practice guidance (PPG) "recognises that various factors may require some adjustment to be made to demographically-modelled household projections". Foster said that, in order to be compliant with the PPG, the housing figures would need to be adjusted to account for factors such as market signals, employment needs and affordable housing needs, but that "evidence on some of these topics is patchy".

In the absence of clear evidence, Foster considered that "an uplift of at least 10%" would be "reasonable and proportionate", resulting in a requirement of around 580 dpy. The inspector said that a forthcoming strategic housing market assessment (SHMA) for the district and surrounding authorities should provide "a clearer picture of future need for Uttlesford and its neighbours".

Foster was also critical of the process followed by the Council in selecting a site to the north east of the village of Elsenham for a new settlement of 2,100 homes. The inspector expressed doubts as to whether the site met requirements in the government's National Planning Policy Framework to minimise the need to travel and maximise the use of sustainable travel modes. He noted that most travel around the new settlement was likely to be on rural roads and that analysis of the likely effects on Junction 8 of the M11 motorway was incomplete.

The inspector said that he had "severe concerns about the justification for this proposal and thus the soundness of the plan as a whole". He questioned "whether the Council considered the claims of other candidate locations for growth ... to the transparent extent required", with alternatives not having been looked at in any detail until after the plan had been submitted for examination.

Foster said that he was unable to recommend the plan for adoption and that the amount of work required in order to bring the draft ULP into compliance with government policy "would be greater than could be completed within the normal maximum six month period of a suspended examination". The inspector, therefore, recommended that the plan be withdrawn entirely.