Mid Suffolk council’s planners are involved in a remarkable stand-off over whether Taylor Wimpey should be allowed to build 295 houses in Debenham. On one side the team of planners who examine applications want to give the developer the go-ahead, and on the other the planning policy team say the scheme should be rejected.
At the heart of the dispute is the future of the Government’s flag ship policy to give communities more say about the future of the places where they live.
Next Wednesday when members of the Development control Committee A meet at Endeavour House, Ipswich, they will have to make a decision on which group of their planning professionals they support.
The planning policy team is clear. It objects to the application because the Debenham Neighbourhood plan is at an “advanced post examination stage” and will be put to local referendum in late January.
While the other team acknowledges the Neighbourhood Plan is at an advanced stage and must be given weight, but goes on to support the development on the grounds of the “District-wide need for housing land and the opportunity to deliver”.
These arguments are spelled out in more detail in extracts from the report to the committee at the end of this post.
Government guidance on neighbourhood planning, updated three months ago, says:
Neighbourhood planning gives communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area. They are able to choose where they want new homes, shops and offices to be built, have their say on what those new buildings should look like and what infrastructure should be provided, and grant planning permission for the new buildings they want to see go ahead.
There is no doubt that the decision of the Mid Suffolk councillors on Wednesday will be watched not only across East Anglia but throughout England. Granting permission for the Gracechurch Street development would leave this localism policy of the Government in tatters.
Debenham Local Plan recognises the need for new homes and identifies sites for up to 260 in the village. It was supported by 86 per cent of respondents to a consultation before the plan was submitted for approval.
The independent examiner did not accept the arguments against the plan put to her by Taylor Wimpey, but they appear to have influenced the planning officers preparing the report urging approval for next week’s committee meeting.
Comment on the application by the planning policy team have been summarised by their colleagues for the report. I cannot find the full document among the responses to the application. This is the summary:
The planning policy team object to this planning application. Section 70(2) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 as amended is clear that a local planning authority must have regard to a post- examination draft neighbourhood plan, so far as material to the application. The Debenham Neighbourhood Plan is at the advanced post examination stage in the planning process. The Examiner’s report for the emerging Debenham Neighbourhood Plan was published on 29th October 2018. In accordance with the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, from this date Section 70(2) applies and the Neighbourhood Plan must be given significant weight in planning decisions. The Neighbourhood Plan is scheduled for consideration to progress to referendum by Mid Suffolk District Council’s Cabinet on 10th December 2018. A neighbourhood plan comes into force as part of the statutory development plan once it has been approved at referendum as stated in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance. In assessing the Neighbourhood Plan, it is necessary to refer to the referendum version which includes the Examiner’s modifications. If a decision is taken contrary to the Neighbourhood Plan, then the reasons for this decision and the weighting given to other material considerations need to be clearly explained. Policies for the supply of housing are set out in DEB1 (Policy 1 – Growth) which identifies the quantum of development in the Neighbourhood Plan and through the site allocations contained within the Neighbourhood Plan (DEB3, DEB4 and DEB5). These set out the level of development planned for in Debenham over the plan period, which also includes a small windfall amount. The Examiner’s considerations on the Growth proposed in the Neighbourhood Plan and the allocated sites were that: 92. Whilst the site selection process has been criticised, the chosen sites received local support during a transparent and robust consultation process. From the Site Assessment Report (December 2017) and the Debenham Neighbourhood Plan [Strategic Environmental Assessment] Environmental Report in June 2018, I am satisfied that the chosen sites are deliverable, as much as I can reasonably be expected to be, and together with the overall housing strategy in the Plan will contribute towards the achievement of sustainable development by the provision of sustainable growth. In particular, I am satisfied as far as I can reasonably be expected to be, that suitable vehicular access to the sites is obtainable and that there are no insurmountable restrictions on development. 93. Subject to my comments with regard to the details of the site-specific allocations below, I consider that the allocated housing sites meet the Basic Conditions. Thus, I do not consider it necessary for the inclusion of additional, or alternative, sites. Subject to the decision of Mid Suffolk District Council’s Cabinet meeting on 10th December 2018, a referendum on the Neighbourhood Plan is anticipated in late January 2019. If the result of the referendum finds in favour of the Neighbourhood Plan, it comes into force immediately as part of the statutory development plan.
And here is the response from the case officer and his colleagues:
It is acknowledged that the NPPF paragraph 49 contends that in particular where the presumption in favour of sustainable development is engaged arguments that a planning application is premature are unlikely to justify a refusal other than in limited circumstances where both [a] the development is so substantial or its cumulative effect so significant that to grant permission would undermine the plan making process by predetermining decisions about the scale, layout or phasing of new development that are central to an emerging plan and the emerging plan is at an advanced stage but is not yet formally part of the development plan. Given that the NP has passed Examination and is to proceed to referendum your officers consider that the plan is at such an advanced stage [b] but that the District wide need for housing land and the opportunity to deliver that in these circumstances are such that this development does not predetermine decisions about the scale, location and phasing of new development in Debenham. In broad terms given the Districts housing land supply position the objective to boost that supply is such that the allocations in the NP would not be predetermined and early delivery of those allocation sites, subject to consideration of their merits through the application process, would also be desirable.