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ICM Shropshire Council approved draft local plan

In case you missed it on the 15th July Shropshire Council approved the draft Local Plan. The Local Plan now goes off to a government appointed Planning Inspector for consideration. The video of the Council meeting is available here although the audio is awful, dropping in and out so frequently you would wonder whether somebody was interferring with it. Alternatively you can read Cllr Andy Boddington’s report on the meeting

Our Councillor Steve Charmley voted to impose houses on the area. Many Conservatives rebelled including some in Bridgnorth, Ditton and Shifnal but not enough to stop the plan progressing. Public comments from the consultation were largely ignored with surprisingly little said as to why they thought their plan was a good thing. Robert Tindel was sacked from the South Planning Committee for not backing the plan, who then left the Conservative group in protest and joined the Independent group.

Conservative Local Plan isn’t based on need

The Conservative local plan isn’t based on actual need but is purely a political decision to build vastly more houses than needed. By going big they are hoping to widen the tax base as much as possible and increase Council Tax receipts without raising the percentage charged. Many communities have protested about the methodology used to define community hubs. Members at Shirehall have been excluded with very little scrutiny. Full council rejected the chance to allow more scrutiny. A short delay would have allowed the soundness of the plan to be improved. In my view, speaking as a Civil Engineering Surveyor working for a Planning Consultancy, this draft plan is very unsound.

After a narrow win the plan progresses. I can only hope that the Planning Inspector does a thorough job, listens to the actual evidence and finds the plan unsound. If the inpector rejects the plan it will be costly and the blame for that will fall entirely on the Conservatives!

The very real risks this decision exposes us all to:

  • The draft local plan gets rejected as unsound. This will mean the Conservatives have left Shropshire with no 5-year land supply. That will mean another free-for-all with developments getting permission anywhere! That uncontrolled development could be in inappropriate locations that will have long term detrimental impacts on communities.
  • Unsustainable development. Large scale development without sufficient jobs, infrastructure and facilities to support the new housing. The Conservative Local Plan fails to adequately define the infrastructure required or how it will be achieved in the plan. Their supporting evidence says there is no demand for the commercial developments they have allocated. It is hard to see where the well paid, skilled jobs will come from without that.
  • Insufficient affordable homes to rent and buy. The plan continues the flawed strategy of relying on developers to deliver affordable homes. That increases the likelihood of developers continuing to duck out of their affordable housing obligations – just like Shropshire Council’s housing company has in Ellesmere despite ostensibly being created to deliver more affordable homes. It certainly doesn’t ensure genuinely affordable homes are built where they are needed.
  • Failure to deliver. By setting the numbers so high above the need there is a real risk that they won’t be built. Any undershoot also renders the 5-year land supply redundant and unleashing another planning free-for-all.
  • Government Planning Bill. The Conservative bill seeks to vastly increase housing numbers. This will be over and above the numbers in this local plan. The bill also seeks to remove councils and communities from the planning process at the decision stage, making it harder for communities to put the brakes on innappropriate development. As I have already pointed out Shropshire Council has already graded hundreds of sites as having ‘long-term potential’. These site will almost certainly be graded as growth areas if the bill comes into law as Shropshire Council scrabbles to find sites. Growth Areas will automatically get outline permission. All without any community involvement. A dark day for democratic involvement in planning if it happens. Had the Conservative plan have been more conservative and allocated just what was needed the Government wouldn’t be locking in as much over provision.

The landscape of our towns and villages has already been severely impacted by innappropriate development let in through the back door – West Felton 45% & Whittington 25% increase in houses in a decade. Communities are now at a development crossroads and their very character is under threat. Shropshire Council policy framework is weak and poorly equipped to defend that. Steve Charmley and his Conservative colleagues have weakened that position, a position that will only get weaker in the years to come.

Solving the housing crisis is far more complicated than just throwing numbers at the problem.

I will continue to use my expertise to fight to make sure planning policy is as robust as possible, to defend communities against innappropriate development, ensure communities are fully involved in the decisions that shape them and to deliver far more affordable homes to rent and buy.