Saturday, 5 April 2014

East Devon draft Local Plan is rejected: ............................... ........ "unsound with serious evidential failings" ................... ............ "deeply worrying" .................. "disastrous" .............. .......... "it’s very bad news indeed" ..........

The Leader of the District Council does not seem to be too worried by the Inspector's remarks on the draft Local Plan:
Futures Forum: East Devon draft Local Plan is rejected ..... but the Leader is "relaxed about the extra work" that will have to be done ..... or: "operating in purely imaginary worlds" .....

But the initial reaction to the news that the draft is 'unsound' was not so easy-going:
Futures Forum: Public Examination of the New East Devon Local Plan ... report published today Thurs 3rd April ...

Indeed, the Express & Echo has a much more alarming take on the news:

"Unsound": Government inspector's "disastrous" verdict on East Devon District Council's Local Plan

By Exeter Express and Echo | Posted: April 04, 2014

By Fran McElhone

Unsound with serious evidential failings – this is the verdict of a Government planning inspector tasked with scrutinising East Devon District Council’s future planning document while warning that more houses may be necessary.

A leading district and county councillor has branded the delay that will now ensue because plans must return the drawing board, as “disastrous”.

And the secretary of the East Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England said the delay has created an extended opportunity for developers to put in large scale applications on open fields which “deeply worrying” for the future of our countryside.

Both criticised the leader of the council, Councillor Paul Diviani’s assertion that the request for more information was “expected”. He added that he is “relaxed” about the extra work needed.

The three-week long public examination of the district council’s Draft Local Plan 2006-26 commenced in February. Over the last few years, during which the plan has evolved, a barrage of campaigners have lambasted the recommendation of 15,000 homes as well as the amount of employment land planned during the time period. On April 3, inspector Anthony Thickett published his conclusions. His main findings, using the Government’s controversial National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as guidance, include:

> The 15,000 housing target is not justified by evidence submitted which is inadequate and not up-to-date
> The absence of an up-to-date Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) is a “serious failing” and makes a full assessment of need difficult
> Subject to the results of an updated SHMA the council should consider making provision for an increased number of dwellings
> Any backlog of housing must be built within five years
> The council must demonstrate a five year land supply but can only demonstrate just over four years
> If adopted in 2014, the plan period covers 12 years instead of 15

Margaret Hall, secretary of the East Devon branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, has long said that the council’s housing prediction numbers are based on incorrect population predictions as per the 2008 Office of National Statistics and Department of Communities and Local Government. The annual population growth, according to the boards, from 2008 and 2026 was one per cent, when according to the 2011 census the rate was less than 0.5 per cent.

“I’m not surprised the inspector reported back and said the data is out-of-date,” she said. “But I take issue which his conclusions that more houses may be necessary, because according to the 2011 census, migration figures into East Devon are lower than predicted. The delay this has now caused is deeply concerning, because of the lack of five year land supply the gates are open for developers to put in applications all over the district. Our countryside will not be safe until the Local Plan is in place. We need as much agricultural land as we can get for our future food security. I am deeply worried that more and more green fields are going to be built over and once they’ve gone, we can never get them back.”

District and county councillor for Ottery St Mary, Claire Wright, raised concerns that the “very foundations on which the Local Plan is based have been questioned. I thought they’d be more work to be done but not on this scale – it’s disastrous,” she added. “In the absence of a Local Plan we can expect an avalanche of speculative, large scale planning applications and the council is going to be hard pushed to defend against it. If Cllr Diviani is saying this outcome is to be expected then why wasn’t something done sooner? Obviously serious mistakes have been made.”

Members of the council’s planning policy team will now produce an action plan showing the extra work it intends to do and the timing of each stage. The council expects to update the inspector in the autumn.

In August 2013, around the time that East Devon’s draft Local Plan was first submitted to the inspector, the council agreed to work with Devon County Council, Exeter City Council, Mid Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council on a SHMA. It is the outcome of this exercise – expected in the next few months – that the inspector believes will provide more accurate data on which to set a longer term housing target for East Devon. The inspector has also instructed the council to make more progress in assessing the need for gypsy and traveller sites and identify locations where such sites could be created.

Cllr Diviani, added: “This is pretty much what we expected. It is quite common for an inspector to ask for more information before finding a local plan to be sound. This is such a complex subject that it is difficult to get all the boxes ticked in one go. After spending so long refining our plans and consulting on them, at some point you have to jump in and see how close you are to what the Government wants to see. This is especially so when there is a moving target. 
Our original plan was based on the Regional Spatial Strategy which the Coalition has since scrapped. Now the plan has to conform to the Government’s NPPF. In the circumstances I am relaxed about the extra work we have to do. We will now put together an action plan showing what we will be doing and when. We hope to go back to the inspector in the autumn with the extra information he needs. In the meantime, our planning procedures will carry on as they have done up to now, with proposals looked at on merit and tested for sustainability, as well as taking into account the issue of land supply. One of the important things to remember is that in planning terms East Devon is not an island – and the communities within it cannot be taken in isolation either. We are all a part of the Exeter sub-region and as such the future shape of our district is closely coupled with the needs of our neighbours.”

"Unsound": Government inspector's "disastrous" verdict on East Devon District Council's Local Plan | Exeter Express and Echo
East Devon District Council: Feniton CPRE: Green fields vulnerable after local plan declared unsound | Western Morning News

The question has been asked again and again - over the last months and years - as to why the District Council hasn't produced a plan earlier. Why has it taken so long?

The Vision Group for Sidmouth was set up in 2005, largely to commend the vision of residents' to the whole strategic planning set-up - and that is now 9 years ago. Here is some comment:
Vision Group for Sidmouth - East Devon draft Local Plan is rejected as "unsound with serious evidential failings"

The VGS is part of the umbrella Save Our Sidmouth:
Save Our Sidmouth

This is in turn part of the wider East Devon Alliance 
- which has issued its own take on the Inspector's report and the District Council's draft Local Plan:


APRIL 4, 2014

If you can hear popping sounds, it’s the sound of champagne corks flying across East Devon as developers celebrate their biggest boost in years. Planning Inspector Anthony Thickett has pronounced on the EDDC draft Local Plan, and if you’re anything other than a developer or someone happy to sell off green fields to cover with concrete, it’s very bad news indeed.

It’s impossible to read Mr Thickett’s letter with anything other than a sense of dismay (was there nothing EDDC got right?) or wonder (how come Mr Diviani and EDDC planning officers are still in a job?). From the outset Mr Thickett is (diplomatically) clear that the draft Local Plan is not just ‘unsound’: it’s appallingly deficient to the extent that substantial work is needed. Mr Thickett’s conclusion recognises that it’s going to be a long haul to get it right. More time for developers to propose hundreds more houses across the East Devon countryside, then.

Mr Thickett’s letter delivers some crushing blows. The opening sentence bluntly rejects EDDC’s argument that (just) 15,000 more houses are needed in East Devon. Critically, Mr Thickett finds that the Council’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) is fatally flawed in that it relies upon questionable data. He finds also that the target of 15,000 includes a need – Mr Thickett is too kind to describe it as guesswork – of 4,000 as overspill, an argument “which has no empirical evidential basis” (i.e. he hasn’t a clue how EDDC came up with this number). He could question the validity of some of the migration data used to inform the Council’s target, “but there seems little point given the shortcomings in the evidence base overall”. Ouch.

The vivisection continues. The 15,000 figure is not justified, the absence of an up to date SHMA is “a serious failing”, and the message is clear: EDDC should make allowances for more housing needed across the District. As developers argued at the Feniton Super Inquiry, EDDC should make up housing shortfalls in the shortest possible time and prove a five-year supply (“I look forward to hearing how you intend to ensure that this will be the case”). As for EDDC’s argument that a blanket 5% increase in housing for East Devon’s villages was appropriate … Mr Thickett states firmly that this is “too crude a tool”. (Feniton and other communities in East Devon should now be seriously worried.) Mr Thickett’s closing remark, that he will do all he can to help the Council go forward, is a generous and tactful way of saying that EDDC will have to start again, get its sums right this time, and get a move on. Or to put it another way, pull its finger out.

How did EDDC react? From a Council that wasted three years allowing Graham Brown to chair the East Devon Business Forum, to seeing an earlier version of the Local Plan thrown back last year with 53 flaws in it, it came as no surprise to see EDDC spinning furiously. Unsurprisingly the Council hailed the Thickett letter as a positive development, allowing it “more time to confirm housing volume” (http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/communications_and_consultation.htm?newsid=1064. Presumably EDDC’s earlier statement that Mr Thickett’s letter had been embargoed at his own request, a request not present in his letter, was to allow time for the spin doctors to get to work.)

EDDC Leader Paul Diviani, with presumably a straight face, pronounced Mr Thickett’s letter as “pretty much what we expected”. Sadly for Mr Diviani, this is pretty well what a lot of us expected. Mr Thickett’s damning criticism of EDDC’s failure has condemned East Devon to a period of uncertainty, during which developers will seize upon the Planning Inspectorate’s savaging of the draft Local Plan as justification enough to build where they want: make no mistake, this is a black day for East Devon. Mr Diviani may be “relaxed about the extra work we have to do”, but the inevitable conclusion of those who have read Mr Thickett’s letter is that the only relaxing Mr Diviani should do henceforth is in a deckchair in retirement on a beach. Preferably one outside the District he has failed so miserably.

In the Thickett of it | East Devon Alliance

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