Independent consultants have endorsed opinions on the suitability of possible housing development sites in Debenham included in the Neighbourhood Plan which was overwhelmingly supported by residents earlier this year.
The Neighbourhood Plan has now completed all the required stages pre-submission stages and has been sent to Mid Suffolk District Council who will handle the approval process.
Before it could be submitted a Strategic Environmental Assessment by independent planners was required and this has been completed by Aecom. The chart below was compiled from information in their report. Each site was assessed under six headings.
The first three sites shown are those supported in the Neighbourhood Plan, The next two are the Taylor Wimpey proposed sites: Land north of Gracechurch Street, subject of a planning application, and north of Low Road but with access to Gracechurch Street. The remaining sites are those which, like the Taylor Wimpey sites are rejected in the Neighbourhood Plan. The plot south of Low Road is the smallest. The less red and more green the better.
In a press release about the submission of the plan for approval, Steve Palframan, Chair of the Parish council, says:
This a key moment which ensures MidSuffolk decision makers should take into account the views of local people when considering planning applications.“We will support schemes which accord with the Neighbourhood Plan to expand the village while maintaining the special character of Debenham which makes it such an attractive place to live. We will continue to vigorously oppose plans which would damage the appearance or character of the village or do not answer our real housing needs.
The Aecom report concludes (the emphasis is mine):
- The assessment has concluded that the current version of the Debenham Neighbourhood Plan is likely to lead to significant positive effects in relation to the ‘Population and Community’ and ‘Health and Wellbeing’ SEA themes. These benefits largely relate to the Neighbourhood Plan’s focus on delivering housing which meets local needs, and enhancing the quality of life of residents, including through supporting community cohesion and on protecting and enhancing the built and natural environment. In addition, the Neighbourhood Plan has a strong focus on protecting and enhancing villagescape character and the setting of the historic environment, This will lead to significant positive effects in relation to the ‘Landscape and Historic Environment’ theme.
- In relation to the ‘Transportation’ theme the Neighbourhood Plan has a close focus on limiting the impact of housing growth on congestion in the village, including at key pinch points on the road network, and on promoting walking and cycling as an alternative to the private car. This will bring significant positive effects.
- The Neighbourhood Plan will also initiate a number of beneficial approaches regarding the ‘Climate Change’ SEA theme, helping to limit per capita greenhouse gas emissions and support the resilience of the Neighbourhood Plan area to the likely impacts of climate change. However these are not considered to be significant in the context of the SEA process given the scope of the Neighbourhood Plan and the scale of proposals.
- In relation to the Land, Soil and Water resources SEA theme, the allocations proposed through the Neighbourhood Plan will lead to a loss of productive agricultural land. However the significance of these negative effects on soils resources is uncertain given that recent detailed agricultural land classification has not been undertaken in the Neighbourhood Plan area.
The Neighbourhood Plan supports the building of up to 260 new homes plus other smaller sites which may emerge, to meeting housing needs in the area.
The Taylor Wimpey site north of Gracechrch Street is proposed to have 295 houses and is opposed by the Parish Council and some 325 individual objections. Only four public comments favour the developer. The other Taylor Wimpey site, which has been the subject of pre-application discussions with Mid Suffolk District Council, would have more than 300 houses.
Last year Sajid Javid, then the cabinet minister responsible for housing, told the annual meeting of the National Association of Local Councils:
Neighbourhood Planning has revolutionised community involvement in the planning process, giving people a whole new voice in the big decisions that affect their lives.
Far from being the ‘NIMBY’s charter’ that some predicted, we’ve found that neighbourhood plans actually lead to more new homes getting built than would otherwise be the case. It’s a great example of the value of that bond between local councils and local people. Because, let me get one thing absolutely clear. Both myself and government remain absolutely, 100 per cent committed to localism and devolution.
The approval stages for the Neighbourhood Plan will include the appointment of an independent assessor and finally a local referendum. Once this is completed the plan will have legal force in planning matters as a part of the wider development plan for the area.
In the meantime it is an “emerging plan” which may be given weight in the consideration of planning applications. The revised National Planning Policy Framework states, “the more advanced [the neighbourhood plan’s] preparation, the greater the weight that may be given”.
It is expected the Debenham Plan will be put to a village referendum in the Autumn.