Overwhelming support for Debenham’s Neighbourhood plan has been given in a consultation. The Parish Council heard last night that 354 responses — representing a larger number of people as many submitted responses on behalf of households — were in favour while 48 were against and 6 did not answer the question.
For a village of 2,500 people to give this level of support to a plan which includes major developments of up to 260 houses is probably unprecedented.
The level of support can hardly be ignored by planners who are now under pressure to give the “emerging” neighbourhood plan considerable weight when considering planning applications for housing developments.
Comments from the the consultation are now being analysed but the council chairman, Steve Palframan, said they would be strengthening the sections on the affordability of new housing and infrastructure.
Submission of the plan for approval has been delayed by a demand that a strategic environmental assessment is required. This will take a couple of months for consultants to complete.
The complete plan has to be submitted to Mid Suffolk District Council who will ensure it is in line with both their emerging Local Plan and the National Planning Policy Framework. They will then employ a planning consultant, independent of both councils, to examine the plan. The examiner may decide to hold a hearing at which representations can be made.
Only after this can the plan be submitted to a neighbourhood referendum at which a majority is required before the plan is legally accepted and given greater influence in the making of planning decisions.
However, emerging plans have to be given some weight under planning guidance and the consultation results suggest the Debenham plan should be very influential.
The background is that Taylor Wimpey has applied for permission to build 295 houses off Gracechurch Street in the village and has another major site for which an application has not yet been made. In total they want to build 640 houses.
This plan has been strongly opposed in the village on the grounds that the infrastructure of the village could not cope with such a sizeable development which would increase the size of the village by two-thirds. It is also in an unsuitable location, say objectors.
The Taylor Wimpey application has, according to the MSDC website, attracted 329 comments only four of which are in favour of the development. The full extent of the objections is unclear as that figure appears to be for online comments and nearly 150 reactions, submitted on paper, are shown among the application documents. It is not clear whether these are included in the total figure shown in the online objections section.
The lack of a completed Mid Suffolk and Babergh Local Plan, and their inability to demonstrate a five-year supply of development land provides a loophole which developers hope to exploit to gain permission for developments against the wishes of communities.
Last autumn Sajid Javid, the cabinet minister responsible for housing, spoke to the National Association of Local Councils saying:
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.