Agenda item

Adoption of the Breckland Local Plan (Agenda item 10)

Report of Councillor Bambridge, Executive Member for Planning.

 

Due to the size of Appendix 5 this report and appendices can be viewed by clicking the ‘ADOPTION’ tab on the Council’s website at the following link:

 

https://www.breckland.gov.uk/Emerging-local-plan

 

 

NOTE: The Cabinet is meeting at 9.30am to make recommendations to Council in respect of this item. Any further information arising from the Cabinet meeting will be reported to Full Council.

Minutes:

The Executive Member for Planning, Councillor Gordon Bambridge was pleased to present the final Breckland Local Plan for adoption.

 

The Local Plan would provide a framework for development in the District to ensure that Breckland’s growth was sustainable and met the needs of the existing and future populations.

 

The Plan provides for over 16,000 new homes and 64 hectares of employment land to meet identified local needs and sets out a raft of planning policies on important topics such as affordable housing, green infrastructure, biodiversity, the protection of important environmental areas such as the Brecks.  As well as Breckland’s valued heritage assets, renewable energy, the protection and enhancement of the town centres and design that, taken collectively, would be used to shape the type of growth in the district over the forthcoming years.

 

Preparation of the Local Plan began in 2014 and had been moulded to take account of a range of different views, including those from Members, the parish councils, local communities as well as those with development interests and organisations and agencies with an interest in the District including, by way of example, Natural England, Highways England and the Environment Agency.

 

Throughout its preparation the Plan had been subject to extensive public consultation. These included the issues and options consultation in late 2014, the preferred directions consultation in early 2016, the proposed sites and settlement boundary consultation later in 2016 and the pre-submission draft in late 2017.

 

The Plan was submitted to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in November 2017 for independent examination. The examination process primarily consisted of the consideration of written submissions in response to a series of questions published by the Inspector. These were directed solely at the Council and helped to inform the matters and issues for more detailed consideration at the Examination.

 

As part of the examination process, the Council specifically requested that the Inspector recommended any main modifications (MMs) necessary to enable the Plan to be found sound and capable of adoption. The Council drafted the Main Modifications and, through an iterative process, agreed these for consultation with the Inspector. Consultation on these was undertaken in 2018 and 2019.

 

The examination process was formally completed when the Inspector produced his final report in October 2019. The Inspectors Report concluded that the Local Plan met the criteria for soundness in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and that it was capable of adoption, subject to the acceptance of the Inspector’s Main Modifications (the modifications had been included in Appendix 2 to the report).

 

In accordance with prevailing legislation, there were two options available to Council regarding a decision on the Local Plan at this point; these were:

 

a)     to adopt the Local Plan with the Inspector’s recommended main modifications or

b)     not to adopt the Local Plan.

The Executive Member for Planning advised that there would be an opportunity for Members to influence the content of the review of the Local Plan in early 2020.  This could conclude greater emphasis on climate change issues as well as further consideration of the roles of the towns and the rural areas.  It was; however, important to consider the Plan as a whole and if adopted, planning applications would be considered against all the policies set out in the Local Plan as well as other considerations including Neighbourhood Plans and the national planning policy.  The Local Plan was the starting point for such deliberations.  Without a Local Plan the value and effectiveness of other local planning documents including neighbourhood plans would be potentially weakened as the Plan was the document that set the overarching framework for these plans and other locally prepared documents.

 

Without an up to date Plan all future planning applications would be considered under the NPPF and in particular paragraph 11. This provides a “tilted balance” in favour of granting planning permission, unless the proposal caused significant and demonstrable harm. This could represent an opportunity for developers and landowners who were considering a speculative application.

 

The Executive Member for Planning supported the Officer’s recommendation and felt that the adoption of the Local Plan was the most appropriate course of action.

 

Following an announcement by the Chairman in respect of procedures, the Leader of the Labour Group, Councillor Jermy believed that the Council’s Constitution allowed all Members 3 minutes to make comments on the report and not just ask questions.  The Chairman confirmed that this was indeed correct.

 

Councillor Birt had been engaged with the Local Plan for many years and over that time had become disillusioned with the way that the policies had developed.  He had made many detailed responses and had attended a great deal of consultations over that period.  He provided Members with a number of examples such as the housing allocation which had ‘flip flopped’ over recent months.  Thetford had originally thousands of houses allocated to it and then in one revision, no houses at all.  This, he knew, was due to the lack of electricity which had since been sorted and the vast quantity of allocations in Thetford had returned.  He was concerned that if such matters could change as quickly as that, how the Plan could be classed as credible over the long term.   He also noted how woolly the wording had become and how uncertain the outcomes were as a result of the amendments pushed through by the Inspector.  In his opinion, it seemed that, despite the Plan, that there was an acceptance that there was going to be some out of Plan development that would be approved.  He felt that many vital elements were missing from the Plan such as the net gain in biodiversity, climate change litigation and the better standards for housing that would be built in the District and more importantly infrastructure improvements.   At the recent Member Briefing, no one had claimed, that this was a good Plan particularly in respect of the Inspectors many major modifications and felt that there was more ‘red pen’ in the Plan than anything else.  He had noted comments from other Members that having at least some Plan was better than having no Plan at all and he accepted that in certain precise areas that was the case but it appeared not to be the case for the villages that he represented.  He felt that the Council would be better off just using the NPPF and robustly applying those sustainability requirements that were detailed within it.  He could not support the adoption of the Plan on the basis that there could be something better in the future in the forthcoming review.  In his opinion, the Council should start again and produce a proper and decent Plan that the Council could take forward to 2036.

 

The Executive Member for Planning felt that quite a number of those statements made by Councillor Birt were not quite correct as most Plans have a large number of major modifications and have immediate reviews. All Plans would have some allowance within them for outside of district boundary development.  The Plan had made allowance for climate change, better housing standards and infrastructure. 

 

On behalf of the Labour Group, Councillor Clarke welcomed the fact that whatever the individual views, the Plan would be adopted.  A huge amount of evidence had gone into the Plan over the years and had already mentioned to the Executive Member and the Director of Planning the need for adhering to the new National Design Guidance that had recently been issued.  The Labour Group would endeavour to play their part in terms of the forthcoming review but all had regretted the reduction in the percentage of affordable housing. 

 

The Executive Member for Planning addressed the principle of the affordable housing reduction and pointed out that this matter had been discussed by the Council on many occasions and several Members at the time felt that a 40% target was too high and was not often met.  Breckland was not alone, as a number of Planning Authorities in Norfolk had not achieved their affordable housing targets. In response to the many other questions and concerns raised by Councillor Birt, these would be addressed outside of the meeting by himself and the Director of Planning & Building Control.

 

Councillor Ian Martin, on behalf of Mattishall and Yaxham Wards passed on their congratulations to Swanton Morley on achieving their Neighbourhood Plan.  On the subject of the Local Plan he had listened to the points made that this Plan was not necessarily the best and he agreed that it was far from perfect in many respects. But having been through a number of years without any sight of a five year housing land supply and communities in Breckland had been exposed to the NPPF and had suffered as a consequence.  For all these reasons, it was sensible for the Council to adopt its Local Plan which would be followed by an almost immediate review where there would be opportunities to make changes and address the flaws that Members were possibly already aware of.  This was not a question but an appreciation that the Council had something it could use if Members were minded to adopt the Breckland Local Plan and he thanked all staff involved.

 

Councillor Jermy asked what data had been used to assess the affordable housing need as he had noticed a couple of interesting sections in the report where it mentioned the current estimates of need for affordable housing and quoted: “in central Norfolk the quarterly number of households accepted as being homeless and in priority need had seen a downward trend over the period 2001 to 2011”.  Another section stated that, and again he quoted: “there had been a downward trend in households living in temporary accommodation”.  Councillor Jermy then drew Members’ attention to the budget papers for the forthcoming Cabinet meeting and the budget pressures in relation to this financial year in respect of housing and homelessness.  Looking at the budget for next year, the need for affordable housing had changed and his concern was that the data was woefully out of date in assessing such a need and the Local Plan was not anywhere near close enough in terms of addressing some of those long standing issues that currently exist.  Another point he wished to raise was in relation to what assurances could be given that this Plan would actually be adhered too given the effort that had gone into it as he had concerns that if it started to be picked apart over the next few years it was not, in his opinion, going to be worth the paper it had been written on.  He asked the Executive Member for Planning for assurance that once this Local Plan had been adopted that it would be adhered to and followed.

 

In response, the Executive Member for Planning said that he would get back to Councillor Jermy on a number of those issues as he did not have the information to hand.  In terms of the Plan being adhered to, if it was adopted, it became the Council’s policy; however, national policies were subject to change and the number of houses allocated as affordable could be discussed in future.  He assured Members that the Council was always looking at alternative ways to provide affordable housing in the District and discussions were ongoing.

 

The Leader, Councillor Sam Chapman-Allen reminded Members that Breckland Council was the first authority in Norfolk to have a Local Plan; however, the opportunity now sat with every Member of this Council and the communities to build on the successes and the foibles of the Plan.  He felt that it was important for Members not to berate the Local plan but build on the successes and ensure that it was fit for purpose.  Officers and Members should be commended on what had been achieved to date as the Local Plan was the foundation that the Council could build upon.  The re-draft and refresh could start almost immediately and he implored all in attendance to support the adoption of the Local Plan.

 

Councillor Jermy appreciated the aforementioned comments but asked the Officers if the data used for the affordable housing need was 10 years old.  Simon Wood, the Director of Planning & Building Control advised Members that the data for the affordable housing stemmed from the Central Norfolk Strategic Housing Market Assessment.  The Inspector had used that data as the base to identify the affordable housing need.  As part of this exercise, the Inspector would have also seen viability work to be sure that the level of affordable housing the Council was asking for was achievable and could be met through the planning process and through planning applications.  It was noted that it was 2017 data that had been used.

 

As a Member of the Planning Committee, Councillor Brame, the Vice-Chairman of the Council thanked Councillor Bambridge and his Team for all the hard work and effort that had gone in to producing this Plan.  This work had started well before he became a Member of the Council and he had sat in many planning meetings with the developers who all have different reasons for wanting either to build outside the settlement boundary or to reduce the level of affordable housing knowing full well that Breckland Council had nothing concrete to base their decisions on. 

 

Councillor Atterwill was disappointed in the end result of the Local Plan but he would support it.  Additional, extensive work would definitely be required during the review period until 2022.  He asked the Executive Member for Planning if there would be another call for sites and, how the Council was going to implement these policies.  Would the Council be taking a rigid view in making people adhere to these policies and refusing those applications that did not conform to the Plan?  He felt that a separate meeting should be arranged between Planning Committee Members and Planning Officers to discuss how these policies were going to be implemented and how the planning meetings should be conducted going forward.

 

In response to the question about whether there would be a call for sites, the Executive Member for Planning advised that if a full review of the Plan was taken then to the best of his knowledge there would have to be a further call for sites.  The period of the Plan would have to be extended beyond 2036 to 2041 and more housing would be required. The Council now had a robust planning policy that the Planning Committee and Officers could use and apply. An increase in Neighbourhood Plans would also have benefit.

 

Councillor Morton pointed out that the inspector’s modifications called for the insertion of climate change into strategic objectives and asked how the Council would ensure hat this happened in terms of new builds.  In response, Members were informed that it was possible to bring policies forward before the Plan came to an end.

 

Councillor Atterwill asked the Executive Member for Planning if he would commit to holding a separate briefing session for the Planning Committee Members.  The Leader commended the suggestion and in the absence of the Chairman of the Planning Committee asked the Vice-Chairman and Officers to get some dates in the diary in early 2020.

 

A recorded vote was proposed and seconded.

 

Councillors Bowes, Colman, Cowen, Crane, Eagle and Oliver left the room whilst this item was discussed (see Minute No. 126/19 above).

 

 

MEMBER

FOR

AGAINST

MEMBER

FOR

AGAINST

MR ASHBY

X

 

MRS JAMES

X

 

MR ASKEW

X

 

MR JERMY

 

X

MR ATTERWILL

X

 

CLLR KIDDELL

X

 

MR BAMBRIDGE

X

 

MR KIDDLE-MORRIS

X

 

MR BIRT

 

X

MR KYBIRD

APOLOGIES

MR BORRETT

Apologies

MR I MARTIN

X

 

MR BRAME

X

 

MR K MARTIN

X

 

MR BRINDLE

 

X

MRS MONUMENT

X

 

MISS BUSHELL

X

 

MR MORTON

X

 

MR CARTER

APOLOGIES

MR NAIRN

X

 

CLLR MARION CHAPMAN-ALLEN

 

APOLOGIES

MR NUNN

APOLOGIES

MR S CHAPMAN-ALLEN

 

X

 

MR ROBINSON

APOLOGIES

MR CLARKE

 

X

MR SHERWOOD

X

 

MR CLAUSSEN

X

 

MRS SUGGITT

X

 

MRS DALE

X

 

MISS TAYLOR

X

 

MRS DOWLING

 

X

MR TERRY

 

X

MR DUFFIELD

X

 

MRS TURNER

X

 

MR DUIGAN

X

 

MRS WEBB

X

 

MR GILBERT

X

 

MR WICKERSON

X

 

MRS GREY

APOLOGIES

MR WILKIN

APOLOGIES

MR HARVEY

 

X

MR WILKINSON

X

 

MR HEWETT

APOLOGIES

 

 

 

 

Members voted 27 x 7 in favour of the recommendations.  There were no abstentions.

 

RESOLVED that:

 

1.     the Breckland Local Plan, which incorporates the Inspector’s Main Modifications and the Council’s Minor Modifications, be adopted as part of the Council’s Development Plan to be used in the determination of planning applications;

 

2.     those policies contained in the 1999 Local Plan, the Core Strategy and Development Control Policies Document (2009), the Site Specific Policies and Proposals Development Plan Document (2012) and the Thetford Area Action Plan (2012) that are not being retained, as set out in the Local Plan: Strategy and Sites, be withdrawn;

 

3.     updates to the Breckland District Policies Map be adopted in line with the Breckland Local Plan: Appendix 5 to this report.

Supporting documents: