In 2015, the Council adopted a local plan that introduced policies that empowered communities to be more involved and lead on development in their area. Those policies were approved by an Inspector prior to them being adopted by the Council, and they have proven to be successful. These community-led developments address the needs of an area and are delivering what a community really wants and needs.
Not wanting to rest on its laurels the Council decided to embark on a new local plan that would address the changing needs of our community. Among other changes, the new plan sought to shore up delivery of infrastructure and facilities in a particular area alongside development; to respect the characteristics of individual communities; and to introduce policies for higher access disability standards, which would enable people to live in their homes for longer. The new plan also sought to reaffirm our commitment to supporting community-led development.
The Council worked closely with its Parish Councils and statutory bodies for almost two years before the draft plan was submitted to a Planning Inspector for examination. The Council has recently been informed that whilst the plan is legally and procedurally correct, the only way our new plan can be adopted is if fundamental changes are made to some of the policies.
The changes required include:
- increasing the housing numbers on allocated sites and the removal of the protection of green spaces in Witchford. the most significant increase in housing numbers are in Soham, Littleport and Sutton
- deleting the policy that requires development to respect the needs and characteristics of a particular named settlement
- deleting the policy for community-led development, despite this already being an agreed policy in the current local plan
- deleting the policy for higher access disability standards
The requirement to add housing numbers on suggested allocated sites will not only be unwanted by communities, who have fought hard to ensure that sites respect the character of the area, but these sites are untested as to whether they are actually capable of delivering the additional numbers.
One such site is Kingfisher Drive in Soham, which had been allocated for 100 dwellings, but the Inspector is requiring the site to be increased to 175. This will be very unpopular locally as Soham already has site allocations for considerable levels of growth. Perversely, if the Council cannot demonstrate that sites can be delivered then it will struggle to prove that it has a five year land supply and this would leave us immediately vulnerable to speculative development.
Highly unusually, all of these changes have been required by the Inspector without explanation. There are several other changes required by the Inspector which, when taken as a whole, would amend the local plan so substantially that it would render it unrecognisable from the local plan this Council submitted for examination. It would no longer be East Cambridgeshire District Council’s plan.
Therefore, it will be recommended to Full Council later this month that the Local Plan is withdrawn from the examination process and the Council will therefore revert to using the 2015 adopted local plan. There is no point in continuing with the current examination when it will result in a local plan that not only disempowers local communities but is so significantly changed from that submitted that it is no longer East Cambridgeshire’s Local Plan but one created by the Inspector with limited explanation or rationale. The Council, and its communities, will be better off sticking with the 2015 Local Plan and its policies which genuinely seek community involvement.
If this recommendation is approved the Council will be writing to the Planning Inspector expressing dissatisfaction and disappointment with the Inspector who, without reason, appears to have chosen to completely disregard community involvement in development.
Whilst the Council cannot currently demonstrate a five year land supply, it is important to note that under the current rules, the Council will once again be able to demonstrate a five year land supply in April 2020, due to the current adopted local plan becoming five years old.
East Cambridgeshire District Council remains committed to appropriate growth, and continues to be open for business. We do need more homes, including affordable homes, and more employment opportunities, but it is vital that such growth is quality growth, delivered with community involvement, in the right location and with the right supporting infrastructure.