Eden has only itself to blame over local plan delay

Date: Tuesday 28th November 2017

Sir, I wonder what the planning inspector would make of your report (Herald, 18th November) on the latest delays in finalising the Eden local plan, and especially the claim that any delay is down to the inspector.

It took the council an unconscionable time to prepare what should have been the final stage in the process, namely its list of proposed modifications to the plan, following several stages of consultation in 2016 and early 2017.

When it finally appeared, in June, 2017, the so-called “main modifications” document ran to a fairly modest 41 pages, but contained numerous changes that had little or nothing to do with the thrust of the consultations in 2016, and, in some cases, without any serious explanation of why the modifications were proposed.

One of those modifications actually undermined the single most important result of the consultations in 2016, which was the eventual emergence of a clear set of criteria for deciding which villages would be designated “key hubs”.

Amazingly, having decided that there should be 13 key hubs, some bright spark seems to have decided to replace the criteria that were actually used in arriving at that figure with a new formula that would have produced 22 or more. Anyone of a suspicious turn of mind might wonder if this change was brought about by the undue influence of local developers working outside the formal and statutory process of consultation.

The result was that the 41-page summary of modifications led to 211 pages of comment and objection, many of them from people or developers who simply ignored the deadline for submissions back in May, 2016, and who, on a strict interpretation of the rules governing the process, should not now be muddying the waters at this late stage of “tidying up”.

But the council has only itself to blame. The modifications failed to clarify what it meant by such concepts as “infill” or “rounding off”; it (accidentally?) deleted any reference to preserving quality agricultural land; it failed to incorporate at least one revision generally agreed in the consultations; and someone decided to replace a clear set of sustainability criteria for new development (based on the National Framework) by the developers’ favourite part of the framework — a clause that seems to say “anything goes”. It is so obscure it has led to case after case in the appeal courts arguing about what it means. The idea that it clarifies anything is absurd.

Basically, however, the 13 key hubs now have a sensible target for housebuilding over the next 15 years, which will probably lead to either one or two developments, on a scale just big enough to attract builders.

That will enable the district council to specify improvements in village infrastructure and services, so as to meet the needs of people moving into those developments, and, of course, the people who already live there.

Hopefully, also,though it doesn’t do this at the moment, Eden Council may even ask parish councils what their villages need, by way of improvement, so as to accommodate any new houses and make their communities more self-sustainable.

Outside the key hubs, the plan is already undermined. The local plan argues that the other 103 villages and hamlets of Eden should provide 11 per cent. of new development. Yet the planning committee’s recent enthusiasm for approving unwanted developments means that even on the raised target proposed for Eden, if the plan is to be positively delivered, just 17 more houses in total will be required in those 103 villages and hamlets between now and 2032. I think that works out at 0.01 of a house per hamlet per year.

You might almost think the mission of the planning committee was to make planning impossible. Yours etc,