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Stratford local plan found sound despite uncertainty over housing needs of neighbours

Out-Law News | 07 Jul 2016 | 2:57 pm | 2 min. read

The local plan for a Midlands local authority has been found sound despite a lack of clarity over how many homes will need to be provided to meet the needs of a neighbouring council.

In his final report (151-page / 767 KB PDF) on the Stratford-on-Avon Core Strategy (SoACS), examining inspector Pete Drew said the numbers of homes required to address neighbouring Coventry's unmet needs might not be known until Coventry's own local plan had been examined.

However, the inspector was satisfied that it was "appropriate for a council, such as Stratford-on-Avon, to be a front runner and proceed to adoption whilst the quantum of unmet need crystallises".

The SoACS included a commitment to identify reserve sites at a later date and to undertake an early review of the plan should that be necessary. "Given that a review is just one of the levers that are available to the Council in order to respond on a positive basis to meeting the unmet housing needs of others, the fact that agreement has not been reached on the final distribution of housing within the [Coventry and Warwickshire housing market area] is not a barrier to reaching a finding of soundness," Drew said.

Examination of the SoACS had initially started in January 2015 but was suspended to allow Stratford-on-Avon District Council to address shortcomings with its assessment of housing needs and its sustainability appraisal.

Drew found in his final report that the Council's revised assessment that at least 14,600 new homes were required in the district between 2011 and 2016 was "robust" and that its updated sustainability was "a reliable evidence source to underpin the core strategy".

The inspector concluded that the SoACS could be found sound, subject to a series of main modifications. These included an alteration to the development strategy to include a new settlement of around 2,100 homes at Long Marston Airfield, to the south-west of Stratford-on-Avon.

The recommended modifications clarified the proposed process for the identification of reserve housing sites through a site allocations plan and for the release of those sites for development as necessary. A new policy was also introduced, specifically providing for the SoACS to be reviewed "if it is evident that the required scale of additional housing site provision is beyond that which can properly be addressed within the context of the site allocations plan process".

Planning expert Matthew Fox of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said: "The SoACS sensibly includes an early review provision to take account of the fact that authorities in the housing market area are likely to be either examining or re-examining their own figures in the near future. Furthermore, although not mentioned, the fact that Birmingham’s local plan is ‘on hold’ with the communities secretary, could result in further changes which would need to be taken account of by this plan."

"This local plan has had a fraught history, and it is therefore positive to see that is now in a position to be adopted. However, we consider that given the importance the inspector has placed on the site allocations process in helping the Council meet its housing needs, the fight may now move on to that process, as developers seek to develop small, medium and large sites in this popular area," Fox said.