East Cambridgeshire District Council Update
The Frustrations of being a Local Planning Authority
Until the Town and Country Planning Act 1947 owners of land could essentially build whatever they wanted on their own land. The Act established that planning permission was now required to build on land regardless of ownership.
Local Planning Authorities, of which East Cambridgeshire District Council (ECDC) is one, control development through the Local Plan. The Local Plan sets out the policies against which applications are judged and either refused or given permission. One of those policies is the “development envelope” around villages and settlements – basically a line, outside of which planning permission is not normally given. If an applicant is refused planning permission they have the right to appeal that decision to the Government through a national planning Inspector; interestingly, third parties can’t appeal.
Local Planning Authorities have targets for new housing numbers over the planning period – the Government basically tells ECDC how many houses it must try to get the market to deliver. ECDC’s Local Plan focuses development on the bigger areas such as Ely, Littleport, Soham and Burwell, with less land being allocated for development in the villages and smaller settlements.
The District Council has just lost an appeal in Fordham, brought forward by a company called Gladmans, for a site of about 100 houses outside the development envelope. The national Inspector ruled that the Council could no longer “demonstrate a five year land supply”. Basically what it means is that the Inspector decided there are not enough houses being built in the district to reach targets.
The effect of this legal ruling is that applications cannot now be refused only for the reason of being outside the development envelope. Applications will still be judged against, and have to comply with, other relevant planning policies in the Local Plan, but for now, the development envelopes effectively disappear.
Many residents don’t like this situation as it means that people can apply for planning permission anywhere – it is fair to say that the District Council is not that pleased about it either!
The frustration for the District Council is that it can give all the planning permissions it likes, but it has no powers to actually force developers to build the houses. The irony of the Gladmans appeal is that it was the same company who put the Council into this situation a couple of years ago with a site at Witchford for around 140 houses, where it won the same argument and put the Council into the same situation of having no five year land supply. There are still no houses built on that land in Witchford, which helped Gladmans’ legal case in the Fordham appeal – it is perverse!
Cynics might say it is a deliberate tactic on the part of a big national developer (who, in our humble opinion, appears not to be interested whatsoever in building homes for people, but is interested in turning land that is not the best land to be built on into development land and selling it off).
All is not lost however, as the Council foresaw this situation and has been working on a new Local Plan, which we hope to be able to adopt after it has been through the national inspection process later this year or early next year. This will wipe the slate clean on the past lack of delivery and we will regain control of our five year land supply once again, meaning the development envelopes will be back in place. Given that the development of a new Local Plan is such a lengthy process, I suspect that we will need to begin working on a new Local Plan as soon as the emerging Local Plan is adopted.
To say it is frustrating is an understatement!
Councillors Steve Cheetham, Stuart Smith & Mark Hugo