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Local Plan and new housing target needed in Northumberland.

The news that the government has written to Northumberland County Council... 

...about its lack of a Local Plan is the latest in a series of events that has created a mini-crisis for Northumberland's planners.

Firstly, the County Council elections in May brought a change in the overall control of the council as a number of Labour and Lib Dem councillors lost their seats to Conservatives. The now dominant Tories voted to withdraw the draft Core Strategy and its ambitious housing target (over 1200 homes a year until 2031) with a view to scaling back the target number for the county in a revised Local Plan. Opposition councillors were highly critical of this move, claiming it would leave Northumberland vulnerable to appeals by developers over any applications refused.

The Conservatives responded that an adjustment of housing figures was necessary as the Government was preparing new guidelines for calculating the Objective Assessment of Needs (the vital basis of all housing targets) for local authorities to follow. These guidelines have now just been published with a figure for Northumberland calculated according to the new methodology of 707 units per year until 2026. Our planners are now engaged in working out detailed figures for each area of the county in preparation for the new Plan they will have to draw up.

In the meantime, the developers who submitted an application to build 285 homes on a site at New Hartley (refused in June 2016 after strong local opposition) have just won their appeal on the grounds that, even though there are a significant number of housing sites with planning consent, without a clear figure for the assessment of housing need the county planners cannot demonstrate that there is an adequate supply of building land available to fulfil requirements. Other developers whose applications have been refused will be taking note of this decision and there may well be other appeals to come.

Clearly this is not a good position for the county to be in. Figures for housing targets cannot just be plucked out of the air.  They must be carefully calculated from many different factors, explained fully and clearly as part of a full Local Plan, published in draft for consultation with all interested parties, debated and voted on in full council, then accepted by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government before they can become official policy. Inspectors at appeal hearings generally want to see that process well under way before they will give weight to OAN figures in a draft Local Plan.

Meanwhile, what difficulties does all this place on our under-pressure Planning Department?  Will councillors on planning committees feel free to reject new applications that they consider too much for a town or village, and what damage may be done to the Council's outline housing plans while all this is going on?

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CPRE Northumberland has been in touch with the County Council and has learnt that while full negotiation of a Local Plan will be likely to take over two years, a first draft could be available as early as summer 2018. Suggestions have also been made that the all-important figure for housing numbers in the county might well follow the Government's own calculation, applying its proposed new formula. This could see the annual target slashed to under 60% of the previous figure, which is very much in line with CPRE's submission to the Council during the consultation on the Draft Core Strategy last year.

However, the Government's concerns over the lack of a Local Plan must now be answered by the Council, who claim they are confident that the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, will accept their view that the previous Plan would have failed its Examination-in-Public, and that they will soon be able to deliver a draft Plan more in line with the recent consultation paper 'Right Homes in the Right Places'.

We await news as the new Draft Local Plan takes shape...

 

 

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