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An Outsiders View of the Rochford Core Strategy Suspension

August 3, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

Planning guru, Andrew Lainton, takes an interest in the Rochord Core strategy.

He writes in response to the Article that John Mason wrote in whiche he wondered if certain legal issues, namely a High Court case called CALA II could impact on the Council’s request for Suspension.

Interestingly John spoke of his concern in the Council Chamber even then about the further potential delays which might be caused by the Government having to conduct Regional Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA) to finally abolish the Labour Housing targets (RSS).

Andrew talks about the third option that John also put forward which was withdraw and re-submit when the legal uncertainty was over.

Finally Andrew has advice for Local MP, Mark Francois, who is a senior government whip who wrote a letter of support to the Planning Inspector on behalf of the Council.

Over to you Andrew Lainton.
 
“It is not that simple, in CALA II one of the key issues was to do with the law on whether or not administrative degree could overcome the will of parliament.  After Royal Assent the will of parliament will be clearer.

But none the less as the junior minister Bob Neill has consented to there will be no revokation until the SEA process has been completed, consulted on and responded to.

Until then the RSS remains the development plan and the legal requirement for general conformity remains.

A material consideration can never trump a legal requirement, this is not a matter for weighing and balancing.

Suspension now of the examination could be challengable as it would be prejudging the outcome of the SEA consultation, indeed imprudent remarks from Ministers have made a challenge on grounds of the Seaport case (a NI SEA case in the European Courts) inevitable, which will take at least two years to conclude.

What is more statements by government payroll members (such as the local MP who is a whip) that after the royal assent the RSS should be disregarded (see letter) could be regarded as prejudicial to the SEA process, the MP needs to keep a judicial silence as his action is likely to be quoted in court as evidence of government prejudice – he could have led to the RSS being given life until conclusion of judicial process.

If the Inspector suspended the EIP (Examination in Public) it would be prejudging, the outcome of an SEA process and consultation that hasn’t even begun.  She should carry on and determine the plan of the basis of what is and not what might be in six months or two years – indeed they have a legal duty to. 

The situation of EiP examinations lasting over a year – when they used to last only a few days or weeks prior to May 2010 – has become a joke which discredits the whole process.

If Rochford was not happy with this they could always withdraw and resubmit later.

Of course on re-submission if they propose building much less than SHMA assessed need and without ‘duty to cooperate arrangements to cope with the housing they would displace beyond the green belt they would not just have a potentially unsound plan they would (after royal assent) have a potentially unlawful one.”

http://andrewlainton.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/rochford-asks-for-core-strategy-examination-to-be-suspended-in-light-of-nppf-and-cala/

Rochford District Council – Suspension of Core Strategy

July 31, 2011 by · 2 Comments 

Councillor John Mason’ s Speech in Full Council on 21 July 2011 opposing Suspension

Open Letter 1 following Full Council Decision to request Suspension

Open Letter 2 following Full Council Decision to request Suspension

The Portfolio Holder for Planning and Transportation, Councillor Keith Hudson, very kindly sent all Members of the Council two letters on Friday, 29 July.

  1. The Council’s Letter requesting Suspension
  2. A Letter from Mark Francois MP supporting the request

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1063718/Letter_to_Inspector_re_suspension.doc

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1063718/Letter_to_Laura_Graham_-_from_Mark_Francois_MP_29.07.11.pdf

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1063718/minutes%20rdc%2021072011.pdf

The full story is in the Council’s Letter and the Minutes above.

The Council has quoted three precedents in its letter to Government Planning Inspector Ms. Laura Graham.

From the above Minutes “The situation the Council was in was not unique, the approach being suggested reflecting that taken by Inspectors in some other parts of the country.”

Had these been quoted in the Report making Recommendation which was debated in Council on 21 July I should have liked to have spoken about these before the Council made its written request.

Yes, they were all suspensions but you need to look at the detail.

South Wiltshire Core Strategy suspended August 2010 !!

Cllr John Brady, Cabinet member for economic development, planning and housing, said: “I am delighted the inspector has recognised that we find ourselves in highly unusual circumstances with the abolition of the RSS taking place towards the end of the Examination of the South Wilts Core Strategy. His agreement to suspend his report to allow us time to reassess our situation is most welcome.”

Note in 2010 !! Different circumstances to RDC and before any of the Cala Court Cases.

Surrey Heath Core Strategy suspended (est. March 2011)

“The planning inspector considers that there is insufficient justification to support the Council’s departure from the South East Plan’s housing requirement for the Borough. Bearing in mind the substantial level of housing need identified in the SHMA, the inspector considers this to be a potentially serious failing. In response, Surrey Heath has requested a suspension of the examination to enable more work to be undertaken.”

Again different circumstances to RDC. And before Cala II.

Luton/South Beds Core Strategy Examination suspended ( est. July 2011)

http://andrewlainton.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/the-legal-problem-that-got-the-lutonsouth-beds-core-strategy-examination-suspended/

Reading the above link and according to Andrew Lainton “The final point is a killer. The Joint committee had proceeded on the basis that the abolition of the RSS was material. At the time Mr Village wrote his letter we didn’t know the outcome of the Court of Appeal in Cala II. Now we do know.”

“The lesson is clear any LPA which has submitted a DPD taking into account the proposed revocation will be contrary to CALA II.”

Note before Cala II.  This looks critical according to Andrew Lainton who is a planning consultant.

This is the critical Para 24 from Cala II;

“It would be unlawful for a local authority preparing, or a Planning Inspector examining, development plan documents to have regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies”.

My thoughts below;

Essentially, if the Inspector agrees to the suspension, she could be viewed as being in direct contravention of the principle established in the Cala II Appeal [para 24] as she would, in effect, be encouraging the authority to have regard to the proposal to abolish the Regional Strategy.

Should prove very interesting !!

Rochford Core Strategy – Revisited 2011

July 24, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

The Rochford Independent stopped publishing Articles for a time because we wished to be less of a “publisher” of news and to concentrate on the primary objective of being District Councillors.

Christine was elected in May to also represent the Hawkwell West Ward in the second of the two seats. I have been naturally acting as her mentor and I am pleased to tell you that she is already acting for residents and making efforts to influence change in the District.

But we have come to the point where we have to publish an Open Letter which both explains our current views of the Rochford Core Strategy alongside that of emerging Government policy which we believe will not deliver the promises made at elections.

Here is the Letter.

Dear Editor

The District Council decided at Thursday’s Council meeting on 21 July to ask the Government’s Planning Inspector to Suspend the Public Examination of the Rochford Core Strategy until December 2011.

But before the vote many Councillors showed a direct interest in the views of Rochford District Residents on strategic planning.

Residents across the district have been opposed for years to the housing targets imposed by the Labour Government and were promised big changes by the Conservatives. 

However we think that many residents are unsure as to what the Conservative Party policies are both nationally and locally.

On national policy the Conservative Party promised at the General Election to do away with regionally imposed Government house building targets and replace these with local targets set locally by residents under the philosphy of Localism. 

But the Conservative Government has suffered a remarkable failure to abolish the regional targets inherited from the previous Labour Government.

And then came along in the last Conservative Budget, Planning For Growth which at least one Planning Inspector expects to see now incorporated into strategic planning or core strategies.

“On the final day of the Examination in Public for the Central Lancashire Core Strategy , the planning inspector announced that he is likely to find the Central Lancashire Core Strategy unsound and will be recommending that it be amended to include the adopted RSS housing targets as a minimum. In making that recommendation he had regard to the Government’s growth agenda which recognises the clear link between housing development and economic growth.”
  
In launching the Planning for Growth Directive the Conservative Government also said “Local planning authorities should therefore press ahead without delay in preparing up-to-date development plans, and should use that opportunity to be proactive in driving and supporting the growth that this country needs.”

How strange that a Conservative controlled Council, like Rochford District is asking a Planning Inspector to Suspend decision making on its Core Strategy when the Conservative Government tells them to “press ahead without delay”. 

Even stranger in the light of Conservative Government policy that the Rochford Core Strategy has not been examined as to whether it delivers Planning for Growth.

But the Thames Gateway strategic housing studies quoted at Thursday’s Council meeting generates, according to the Council’s Portfolio Holder, a requirement for over 13,000 new houses!!

It is no suprise that these figures are being rejected by all parties.

The evidence for the local Conservative alternative 3800 new homes over 20 years seems to reside in the almost 1200 people who are on the Council’s Housing Register where if each housing development delivers 30% affordable homes that neatly comes out at 60 per year over 20 years out of a total of 190 per year over 20 years. Certainly one Member quoted that figure to me during the debate.

The risk is that if you project the decision of the Planning Inspector for Central Lancashire then the minimum number of houses for Rochford District may go back to 250 per year (the Labour or RSS target) or 5000 over the same 20 years. And according to a leaked Government documents perhaps by an additional 20% to 6000 !!

But there is an alternative if only the Council would look at its own figures. The Portfolio Holder for Planning stated that our District’s new housing requirement was determined by local needs.

I have an Officer Report of Rochford District Council which sets out our local housing needs for affordable homes which in turn seems to generate the total build figure dictated by the Government (30% of all housing developments must be affordable homes by virtue of Government Policy).

I referred to this report when I was challenged in Council to advise what new housing figure I would wish to see but only two other Councillors had apparently seen this.

The Report headed “Information Re The Approval of the new Allocations Policy” dated 21 June 2011 states;

“Under the new banding system,there will be 593 applicants who it is deemed have no housing need.” 

That leaves by numerical deduction from the total number of applicants on the Council’s housing register that are eligible to be housed at 576.

So RDC has no need to build affordable houses for 593 Applicants only 576 to meet our local needs.  

Bearing in mind that 3800 houses over 20 years seems to relate to the whole housing list of 1200 then because there are only 576 who need homes that seems to suggest just 29 affordable houses need to be built each year for 20 years rather than 60 which is 50% against a total number of houses of 1920 over 20 years rather than 3800.   

Looking at it again for clarity the total over 20 years, based on the 576 being 30%, generates 1920 new houses instead of 3800 proposed by the Council against the previous housing targets of 5000.

So my figure is 1920 based on real housing needs in the Council’s Housing Register whilst the Council still sticks to 3800 based on what we see as incorrect numerical evidence which surely the Inspector for Rochford must reject. 

But in rejecting this must she just replace that with 5000 or 6000 based on the new Government’s policy in replacement for the previous targets? That is what seems to be happening in Central Lancashire. 

No Change………… but Change was promised at the General Election.

With the Council proposing to plough on with figures that will inevitably be rejected our party could not support the waste of time and money that would result in following the recommendation put forward.

The latest Court Case referred to by the Inspector for Rochford says ( her letter dated 2 June 2011);

“”You will be aware of the recent High Court judgement in the Cala Homes case. At paragraph 24 it says “It would be unlawful for a local authority preparing, or a Planning Inspector examining, development plan documents to have regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies”.””

The words which still ring in my ears are “It would be unlawful for a local authority preparing………..to have regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies.”

But the Council is continuing to do that and just asking for a Suspension of the Public Examination does not, in our opinion, change this act of continuing to prepare its Core Strategy having regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies, as it evidences from its published Core Strategy Timetables, from being unlawful to lawful.

Personally, seeing that this position remains I do not think that the Inspector should agree to the Suspension because in doing so she would surely be facilitating something contrary to general direction of Court, in having seen the Council’s intention to continue on an unlawful course despite what the Court ruled, “that it is lawful to continue to have regard to the proposal to abolish regional strategies in preparing a Core Strategy.” 

If agreed the Suspension will prevent further input from residents as to their views on emerging Conservative Government Policy as it affects house building and just prepares the ground for the inevitable rejection of the Council’s current proposals by the Planning Inspector on resumption and decision making following suspension.

An Unsound decision will be disastrous for Rochford District.

What the Council needs to do is return to the public as soon as possible with proposals backed by a local housing study that residents will accept and request a Re-Examination.

If the Council does not do this then I fear the ultimate  imposition of 5000 or even 6000 new homes when we may only need 2000 if the Council’s Housing Register figures are correct.

Yours

Councillor John Mason

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