Agenda item

Breckland Local Plan Issues and Options Document (Agenda item 8)

Report of Iain Withington, Planning Policy Team Leader.

Minutes:

MKM stated that this was very much work in progress and was a preliminary part of the first consultation.  The report was intended to go to Cabinet in October followed by a consultation in November.  There had been a good response last time so it was hoped that a good response would be received for this Issues and Options document.  Members would be given the opportunity to shape this document.

 

The Planning Policy Team Leader said that he envisaged three sessions for this work, this being the first session which would cover the early chapters such as the overall vision and objectives for housing, including affordable housing and Gypsies and Travellers and the economy.  Another session had been arranged to take place following the Cabinet meeting on 9th September and would cover the natural and historic environment together with a housing update, if available – the final Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) report was due out early in October.  The final session would be held to discuss market towns, service centres and the approach to the countryside including the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA).  The Planning Policy Team Leader said that he was looking for feedback from Members on the questions and options included in the report to ensure that the right questions were being asked going forward.

 

Vision and Objectives

 

The first question that should be asked was whether the document was pulling out the key priorities of the Council; and whether the questions were still appropriate.  The key priorities were:

 

        Sustainable development;

        A11 corridor growth;

        Thetford growth;

        Attleborough housing and economic growth;

        Improved services, sustainability of settlement hierarchy and rural hinterland;

        Appropriate enhancement & protection of natural, built and historic environment.

 

The key themes within the last vision were:

 

  • Housing , Employment and regeneration
  • Environment
  • Natural Resources
  • Accessibility

 

The existing vision from the Core Strategy had served the district well and significant progress had been made to deliver the aims of the document. However, the new Local Plan offered the opportunity for this vision to either be replaced or brought up to date. It was proposed through the Local Plan Consultation to seek views on what sustainable development meant in Breckland, and what should be included in the Strategic Objectives and the time span of the Local Plan.

 

The time span of the Local Plan had two options, Option A set the period to 2031, Option B set the period to 2036.  MKM said that he would be recommending setting the Plan to 2036, in order to align the evidence base with neighbouring authorities and enable more effective cross boundary cooperation.  He felt that 2036 would be a better common end date.  The Planning Policy Team leader agreed to reflect the Council’s preference for the end date to be 2036 in the text of the document but pointed out that much of the emerging evidence ran until 2031. The lack of a Health & Wellbeing objective was questioned, as this was a national subject it was felt that more information should be incorporated.   It was noted that this subject matter was going to be being looked at through the emerging draft corporate priorities and these needed to be reflected going forward.  Councillor Borrett referred to the issues of sustainability and what was meant by that because what was considered sustainable in Norwich for instance was completely different in Breckland.  He felt rather nervous as he did not want the Council to tie itself to an urban vision without establishing the meaning of sustainability first.  He then highlighted what, in his view, the visions could be.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris drew attention to section 2.17 of the document in relation to travel which he felt would more than likely increase in the years to come and believed that the expected responses on this subject would be very interesting.  The Chairman mentioned the forthcoming Better Broadband project that would provide better access in rural areas.  Councillor Cowen reported that when this was previously looked at, sustainability was not achievable in any context and the biggest criticisms were that we could not make our sustainability documents work for Breckland.  He felt that the villages could be more sustainable than the market towns if sustainability was looked at in a different way.  It was imperative that this worked for this part of the world.  A completely different context needed to be put in for towns and for villages as it was not just about transport it was who had access to public transport.  Families wanted to remain in the environment of where they grew up; therefore, sustainability must be targeted at families so that they can stay and work where they lived.  Documents such as these concentrated far too much on matters such as stone curlews and bats rather than the people and Breckland Council and this Local Plan must take more notice of the people it represented.  Members needed to think outside the box – what was the sustainability for Breckland.  He agreed with Councillor Kiddle-Morris to push back to 2036 taking into consideration neighbouring authorities.  Breckland must also focus on visionary issues, vision was completely different and it would be Breckland’s opportunity to be visionary going forward, this was about taking us forward to a place that this Council had never been before.  Breckland had always struggled with matters such as these and some form of visionary statement for the Council was needed as it was up to us, we would either succeed or fail for the generations to come.  He mentioned the overspill from London that had ruined the town of Thetford that was only now getting back to where it used to be.  He felt that people needed to be encouraged to come forward with mind blowing ideas – to encourage people to stay and live in Breckland.  The Planning Policy Team Leader stated that there were hooks within the document that would lead people to think more outside the box and there were questions that would link sections together and he hoped that the Council would end up with some evidence and direction from the document itself.

 

Housing

 

The Senior Planning Policy Officer followed the previous format presenting four options for the objectively assessed housing needs:

 

  • Economic led
  • Demographic led
  • Supply led
  • + a 4th option, the emerging Norfolk wide Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA)

 

Changes brought about through the Localism Act 2011 now required local authorities to be responsible for setting their own level of housing and employment provision.  These changes mean that alongside establishing where future development should go the Council needed to establish an appropriate level of housing provision for the new Plan period.  The setting of this target must be in the context of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and be based on current and future demographic trends, market trends, and the needs of different groups in the community.  In addition to the above, the Council must consider the emerging Norfolk wide Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) which was expected to be completed in October 2014 in time for the consultation.

 

The different scenarios did not reflect the newly published 2012 population projections which could result in different growth scenarios to what the Council had now.

 

Referring to affordable housing, the 2013 SHMA had concluded that there was a need for 398 new additional affordable housing units per annum over the next 5 years and that in terms of need alone would justify a 40-45% affordable housing requirement.

 

Councillor Kiddle-Morris had attended a recent meeting about the Norfolk wide SHMA and in his opinion it did not look as if it was going to provide much more housing information as Breckland Council already had.  The Joint Deputy Planning Manager said that this document would need to be brought back to a Local Plan Working Group meeting when this SHMA information had been finalised.

 

Councillor Kiddle-Morris stated that some other information (Travel to work data) that needed to be included in the document from the new census but that it would not be available until 2015.

 

Councillor Borrett drew attention to section 3.10 of the report and pointed out that just building more dwellings was not the answer it should also be about the delivery and better paid jobs.  If Breckland had a balance of economic growth it could increase sustainability so he was keen to see additional text highlighting the links between economic growth and housing.  Additionally, in the little village that he lived, there was quite a demand for people in low paid work that could not afford to buy a house in the village so a need for affordable housing for those in work should also be considered.

 

Councillor Cowen said that should form part of the visionary context – about thinking outside the box.  He pointed out that there were 1000s of key workers in Breckland so these issues needed to be addressed.  The rural areas were also full of small enterprises so he endorsed what Councillor Borrett had said.  Flagship Housing Association was reluctant to build affordable housing in rural areas as it had always said that there was no demand, they were clearly wrong and Breckland should take the lead on these visionary statements as they were absolutely crucial.  He queried the housing figures and asked if this was the gross figure or did it exclude affordable housing.  The Joint Deputy Planning Manager felt that the discussions had been very interesting and stated that the Planning Policy Team needed to look at all the different policy requirements, past and present, as it could affect how much affordable housing would be delivered in future; however, when setting an affordable housing target particular emphasis was placed on viability through the NPPF.

 

The Senior Planning Policy officer was pleased that Members had answered a number of questions and explained that the economic dimension to the housing element would not be carried out in isolation.  Affordable housing had been narrowly defined and there was only so much planning policy could do.  Councillor Turner said that even though it was different, Breckland had to face the challenges ahead in relation to the elderly who also needed housing in the area.  Members had to stand behind it and fight Breckland’s corner.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris pointed out that the Government was looking at changing the affordable housing thresholds, looking at different levels in different areas.  He also mentioned the lack of development in relation to rural exception sites and Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and the problems the Council was experiencing trying to encourage RSLs to build in rural locations.  Councillor Borrett said that building key worker housing in rural areas should be included in the document rather than just calling it affordable housing.  Members agreed with this suggestion.  The Senior Planning Policy Officer stated that the Team would continue to work collaboratively with the Housing Team in future.  The Planning Policy Team Leader assured Members that there were other sections in the emerging Issues and Options that covered the approaches to the countryside but that a paragraph could be re-worded to include ‘rural worker’.  He said that the meaning of affordable housing had changed in recent times and had moved away from its former definition and there were now other means of encouraging affordable housing.  Additional text would be added to explain what affordable housing was and who needed it.  Councillor Turner felt that every single department across the Council needed to work more closely together otherwise Breckland would end up with a document that was not fit for purpose.

 

Gypsy & Travellers

 

The Senior Planning Policy Officer drew Members’ attention to sections 5.44 and 5.64 of the document; 5.44 highlighted the need for additional pitches and 5.64 highlighted the potential scenarios for meeting the identified need and the implications.  He asked if Members felt that the questions being asked were reasonable.

 

The Chairman raised concern about the Gypsy & Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA) that had indicated that there was a preference towards Swaffham and Watton predominately due to the location of family members.  He pointed out that he knew of no existing families in Watton and no gypsy sites so he felt that the wording was misleading and was a myth.  The Joint Deputy Planning Manager asked what the current supply was in terms of gypsy and traveller sites.  In response, the Planning Policy Team Leader said that he would find out.

 

MKM reminded the Group that this document was still work in progress and all relevant information from this meeting would be fed back to the Planning Policy Team.  Councillor Martin asked how Gypsy and Travellers should be defined as in his opinion, if more pitches were needed to accommodate extended families, how could they be classed as travellers; he felt that cross border issues should be taken into account too.  The Planning Policy Team Leader stated that South Norfolk had commissioned a new GTAA and was planning to go out to consultation very soon.  The Local Plan would also be looking at the site assessment criteria involved in order to develop an appropriate site assessment methodology.  Many authorities were struggling with their Local Plans as many had not addressed the Gypsy and Traveller issues.  Councillor Borrett felt that the more sites councils provided would create more demand.  Councillor Turner pointed out that it was no good providing places that were not on their traditional routes.  The Joint Deputy Planning Manager explained that part of the need was due to population growth; this GTAA had changed some of the assumptions of the former Regional Plan and Breckland Council needed to look at this as the temporary planning permissions were due to expire.  The Chairman felt that many should be classed as settled communities rather than travelling communities and he asked how people qualified.  Members were informed that this was all part of the Government’s definition.

 

Employment

 

The Planning Policy Officer introduced this section that started on page 45 of the document.  The key evidence for Breckland had been based on an Employment Growth Study and Employment Land Review that had been undertaken to help address issues such as business needs, markets, land and floorspace, existing and future supply of land for economic needs as well as understanding suitability.  It was noted that the numbers would have to be increased by 5 years to 2036 if approved.  The Planning Policy Officer asked Members if they felt the questions being asked in the document were correct.

 

Councillor Borrett drew attention to the table on page 50 which highlighted the demand and supply balance to 2031.  Referring to Swaffham, he felt that this information needed to be turned on its head because if businesses felt there was no demand they would go elsewhere. He also felt any employment space should not be allocated to residential.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris said that some of this information related to 2007-2013 and it was up to Breckland Council to put policies in place to enable these spaces to be opened up.  The evidence base for shopping also needed to be looked at.  Councillor Borrett said that he believed that a policy to create employment land that was relatively cheap was required to put the heart back into the towns and felt that the Council needed to one step further beyond the evidence that had been provided.  It was noted that superfast broadband would make a difference too.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris referred to option 20 on page 53 and felt that the question needed to be expanded: the re-use of rural buildings and encourage new places for work.  Councillor Cowen reminded the Group that if the Council wanted to attract high quality employment in market towns it had to have the housing to go with it together with good schools, healthcare and transport otherwise the people would not come.  The link between housing and employment land was crucial but retail was not, as he felt that retail would automatically come along if the other factors were in place; in other words, a different quality employer and employee would demand better quality retail.  

He also mentioned the impact and influence the new legislation coming from Brussels would have on the farming communities and was quite concerned that he had not seen sight of any threats to employment in this document such as abstraction rates being reduced which had already had an affect on Banham Poultry and would ultimately affect the pig industry unless ways of doing things differently were found and policies had to reflect all these changes.  The Chairman suggested including a risk log in the document of how all these matters should and would be dealt with. 

 

Referring to the aforementioned suggestion with regard to the over supply employment land and allowing more choice in the market place, the Senior Planning Policy Officer said that there must be a balance.  Councillor Borrett felt there should also be a policy about not building residential on employment land.  In response, Members were informed that the Council should not technically be seen to be holding onto it either.  The Joint Deputy Planning Manager said that there were other things that could be looked at like business rates relief.  Referring to rural buildings he felt that there should be some caution on the re-use of rural buildings.  The Chairman said that this could form part of the risk strategy.  Councillor Martin pointed out that there was a lot of business coming to Attleborough and many of the larger houses on the new developments had already been sold before completion.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris made a final comment on employment land which he felt was a very difficult subject to judge.  He also mentioned the skills base which he felt was not out there and therefore felt that one of the aspirations should be getting these people trained for the businesses that the Council wanted to attract.  The Chairman referred to a couple of companies that had set up academies for that purpose which he felt should be encouraged.

 

Members’ attention was drawn to the rural economy section of page 48 of the document.  Options were being presented of how the Council proposed to support rural businesses. 

 

On retail, a new Retail/Town Centre study was being prepared which was due out in September and the information from this study would be fed through into the Issues and Options document.  Attention was drawn to section 6.37 of the document where it highlighted the fact that the Council, through the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) had the opportunity to set a proportionate locally defined threshold above which impact assessments would be required.

 

The final section talked about where the Council’s priorities should be in relation to transport.  Councillor Martin mentioned the bus service from Attleborough to Norwich which he felt was excellent.  Councillor Turner also mentioned the good transport links from Dereham to Norwich; the problem was however that the public had to drive to Dereham to catch them.  The vision should be a total transport system for Norfolk.

 

Councillor Borrett and Councillor Kiddle-Morris had been very impressed with what the Planning Policy Team had done and thanked the Officers involved.

 

In terms of process, the Planning Policy Team was still working on the remainder of the document that it was intended to bring along the middle sections, on Environment, to the next Local Plan Working Group (LPWG) meeting.  The third section would be in relation to the Market towns including Attleborough.  The Planning Policy Team Leader said that he would report back on any changes and all feedback from this meeting would be taken into account.  The Chairman asked if the LPWG should have a further visioning session on these matters for all Members similar to the one previously carried out which had been well attended.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris agreed as he felt that all Members should get to grips with this document not just the LPWG.  Councillor Cowen reminded the Group that this document had already been delayed and should not be delayed again and more notice was better than less as far as parish councils were concerned.  He mentioned the forthcoming Overview & Scrutiny Commission and Cabinet meetings and agreed that Members needed to see sight of this document sooner rather than later.  Councillor Kiddle-Morris suggested bringing this document back once amended and getting as many Members as possible to attend if the visionary session did not come to fruition. Additionally, the LPWG needed to be publicised further.

 

RESOLVED that the report be noted.

 

Supporting documents: