Posted: 23.08.21 at 14:01 by The Editor
Rutland county councillors have been recommended to set aside £1.4M to start afresh on a new Local Plan.
The recommendation from council planning staff will be considered at a Special Meeting of Rutland County Council on Wednesday September 1.
The special meeting will take place at Rutland Showground in Oakham at 7pm. There will be room for 60 public to attend, with priority given for those making presentations. Thus, the council is encouraging people to watch it on Zoom.
The move follows county councillors in March voting to not accept £29.4M of central government funding towards infrastructure for the St George's Barracks Garden Village scheme.
A report prepared for the special meeting says this decision "impacted the
viability and deliverability" of the scheme, which in turn harmed the "wider development strategy affecting the soundness of the Local Plan."
By withdrawing the current Local Plan, as recommended, which was close to delivery, planning staff argued for a new Local Plan costing up to £1.4M.
Members are also recommended to create a cross-party group to provide oversight of the process of creating it.
Their report noted: "Following the decision not to accept the Housing Infrastructure Fund grant the appointed Planning Inspector wrote to the Council on 24th March 2021 advising of her decision to pause the Examination process to enable the Council to consider the implications and confirm its intentions regarding the Examination."
The Inspector then told the council: “In order to avoid wasted time and expense to the Council and other participants, it is not sensible for the Examination process to progress further at this stage without a clear understanding of the potential implications of this significant development for the Examination.”
The council report continued: "Since the Council decision in March 2021 discussions have taken place between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) as landowner, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), Homes England and the Council to explore whether there was an alternative funding mechanism to address the £29.4m viability gap.
"The MoD has now confirmed that it has not proved possible to secure an alternative to the HIF grant.
"In light of this situation, it is important for Council to confirm its intentions regarding the Examination of the Local Plan. This is necessary to provide clarity for the Planning Inspector, landowners, the market, other stakeholders, officers and most importantly the County’s residents and businesses.
"Without grant funding there is insufficient evidence to justify the proposals for St. Georges in terms of viability and deliverability."
The planning staff further warned: "The withdrawal of the Local Plan will result in the County being without an up-to-date strategic policy framework to meet its identified housing and other development needs. The policies in the Local Plan will have no weight in determining planning allocations."
Their report said the council has publicised the county's housing land supply as 5.2 years, based on sites allocated within the plan, but without a plan the assessed housing supply drops below 5 years, making the county more vulnerable to "to the approval of unplanned, ad-hoc development."
"The implication for the St. George’s Barracks site is that there will no longer be an emerging policy basis for its redevelopment."
The officers further warned: "Withdrawing the Local Plan will also mean that there will no longer be an emerging policy basis in Rutland for the Quarry Farm allocation of 650 homes (north of Stamford).
"Withdrawing the Local Plan will have implications for some services and affect the ability to plan for the longer term, for example, school place planning, public transport planning and health provision. "
Their report said central government requires a Local Plan be adopted by the end of 2023, with it possibly taking sanctions against Rutland Council if one is not adopted. Yet, it is anticipated a new Local Plan would take 3-4 years to develop in an 'ambitious' programme.
A new plan was needed to guide development, letting people, organisations and business to know the planning policies, which would need "consultation and comprehensive community engagement in line with the plan-making process."
However, there were two alternatives, with the first being Rutland County Council deciding to proceed to the Examination in Public with the submitted Local Plan "in the anticipation that the MoD as landowner could demonstrate viability and deliverability of the St. George’s site at that time". But this may lead to the Local plan not being found to be 'sound.'
The officers also noted the council's constitution allows it to revisit a decision after six months has passed.
They explained: "As the decision not to accept Housing Infrastructure Funding was made on 22nd March 2021 the Council could choose to reconsider accepting the HIF grant after 22nd September 2021.
"Homes England has confirmed that there remains an option for the Council to enter into a tripartite grant agreement for HIF on the basis proposed earlier this year."
Homes England says it would be willing to give the council more time but this would need more talks with the MOD, Homes England, and others to develop a new agreement.
The planning staff also noted Rutland Council is budgeting for a £1.9M current deficit in the coming financial year and the 'current plan' had seen £1.2M spent on it whilst it was developed after 2015.
The officers also warned that without a Local Plan, more planning staff would have to be recruited to determine planning applications and deal with associated appeals. Extra planning income would offset the costs, but the total net cost to the council was estimated to be £441,000 to £770,000.
Therefore, they recommended Council "proceed with making a new plan as quickly as possible" with an earmarked reserve of £1.4M to fund this, and update the evidence needed to develop the plan.
Their report further concluded: "The development of a new plan should be progressed in a manner that is positive, evidence-based, objective, respectful and collaborative to secure the best outcome for the future of the County.
"It is recommended that a cross-party working group be established to provide oversight of the local plan process and in line with the Council’s existing Governance framework. It is also proposed to invest in a comprehensive community engagement approach."
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