Elections and national policy changes blamed for delays to Babergh and Mid Suffolk joint local plan
Delays to a key blueprint which will map out future development in two Suffolk districts over the next 16 years were down to elections and national policy changes, according to two local authorities.
The joint local plan for Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils will map out suitable areas of housing development up to 2036, as well as necessary infrastructure and public services needed with those, such as new schools and GP surgeries.
That plan was meant to have been adopted in February 2020, but delays last year meant that target has passed.
A new timetable for what documents will be produced and when, known as a local development scheme, is expected to be unveiled in July.
But the two authorities have now clarified the delays and said checks remained in place to ensure unsuitable developments are not approved.
A spokeswoman said: “Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils have adopted planning policies, which in conjunction with the National Planning Policy Framework provide sufficient criteria for determining planning applications and refusing unsuitable development.
“Both councils also have a published five-year housing land supply and have recently passed the Government’s annual housing delivery test.
“Our joint local plan will provide long term certainty about developments across both districts, as well as clarity on the deliverability of appropriate sites, up to 2036.
“It is vital that local communities, statutory bodies and other stakeholders shape and inform this document, with a thorough analysis of consultation responses.
“The local development scheme published in July 2018 was also produced before significant changes were made to the National Planning Policy Framework resulting in additional requirements.
“Progress is being made through ongoing engagement with councillors and statutory bodies, together with the updating of key further evidence reports. However, the current pandemic has led to uncertainty on timescales and matters being considered in producing the joint local plan.
“At present we are aiming to bring a new local development scheme, setting out the timetable for the joint local plan, to full council in July 2020.”
The spokeswoman added that the snap general election in December also added additional delays.
Current drafts of the plan suggest around 17,500 new homes will be needed across the two districts by 2036.
The plan, while still in development, is unlikely to be in a position for adoption before 2021.
The Green group at Mid Suffolk District Council said: “The lack of a joint local plan is often cited as a reason to approve locally controversial planning applications and it is therefore even more vital that we can get some public discussion on this soon.”
Analysis: What is a local plan and why is it important?
A local plan, which in the case of Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils will be a joint blueprint, is effectively a future development map.
It allocates sites deemed suitable for housing, but also indicates the need for future infrastructure needed such as roads, bus routes, schools and health centres.
The existing plan is out of date which means that, under planning law, authorities are required to give more weight in favour of approving applications in order to meet housing demand.
It means that some developers can attempt to force through new builds in areas where it may not be considered sustainable or appropriate.
It also means that in cases where planning permission is refused, it is much more likely that developers will appeal to the Planning Inspectorate for the decision to be overturned and permission granted – a process which can be time-consuming and costly for council legal teams.
Having a five-year land supply and a fully adopted local plan means the districts have essentially mapped out a sustainable future which means that developments considered unsustainable can be rejected. It gives authorities a greater degree of control in ensuring that developments meet the needs of the community they are being built in and with the necessary infrastructure improvements.
For certain communities this is crucial – particularly in areas which are considered attractive for development. Some areas are already facing the prospect of doubling in size.
More by this authorJason Noble, Local Democracy Reporter
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