Agenda item

Local Plan Update


In his role as Leader of the Borough Council, the Chairman opened the discussion by reminding Members of the key milestones achieved so far in the preparation of the Local Plan. 


It was explained that that every council in the country had a statutory obligation to identify sufficient land for future house building and this had to be set out in a Local Plan.   The number of houses that had to be planned for was decided by an approach set down by central Government and not by the local council.    In Tonbridge and Malling the housing need had been identified as 13,920 homes for the period of the Local Plan up to 2013.  This represented a figure of 696 dwellings per year and meant that, over and above sites already approved, sufficient new land to build an additional 6,800 homes had to be identified. 


Following the Call for Sites exercise and evidence-based assessment the draft Local Plan now included 31 sites, refined to achieve an estimated potential yield of 6,834 new dwellings. This had significantly reduced in size to reflect Local Plan evidence and changes arising from consultations. 


The Leader reiterated the very severe consequences if the Borough Council failed in its duty to adopt a Local Plan.  Without a Plan in place the Borough Council’s ability to manage development would be weakened.   In addition, the failure to submit a Local Plan within the transitional period set out by the Government in the new draft National Planning Policy Framework (published on 24 July 2018) would result in significant risks associated with having to address a substantially higher housing provision.  It would also cause significant further delays, which would place the Borough Council in a more vulnerable position in terms of land supply in responding to planning applications and facing planning appeals.


In summary, the Leader indicated that generally it was accepted that more homes were required for future generations.  However, these should be in the right place and supported by adequate infrastructure.  This was what the Local Plan sought to do and it was the responsibility of the Borough Council to consider the strategic overview given the difficult task set by Government.   It was noted that the Local Plan was unlikely to resolve community infrastructure problems completely, although it was hoped that the situation could be improved by maximising investment from developers, as identified in the Local Plan.


The Director of Planning, Housing and Environmental Health and the Planning Policy Manager then provided an update on the preparation of the Local Plan.  A revised draft document with a refined development strategy, policies and proposals had been considered recently by the Planning and Transportation Advisory Board on 5 June and 24 July and at an Extraordinary Cabinet on 3 September 2018.  The latter had recommended to Council that the draft Local Plan be approved for submission to the Secretary of State and a further period of statutory consultation.


Reference was made to the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and it was confirmed that the transitional arrangements, previously outlined, remained in place.  Consequently the target date for submitting the Local Plan to the Secretary of State was now 24 January 2019, if the Borough Council wished to have the Plan examined against the previous NPPF and in particular to avoid the new standardised approach to housing assessment.


A number of changes made since the last meeting of the Panel were summarised and included amendments to the following policies related to strategic sites:


-        LP27: Strategic Site Bushey Wood, Eccles – transport assessment added to the masterplan;


-        LP29: Strategic Site Borough Green Gardens -  following further consideration it had been decided to revert to the previous policy wording i.e. that the whole relief road is completed and open by no later than the completion of 15% of the total number of dwellings in the masterplan;


-        LP30: Strategic Site Broadwater Farm – detailed transport assessment added to the masterplan;


-        LP35: Employment Land at the former Aylesford Newsprint site and amendments to ensure that the site was subject to a masterplan in advance of a planning application.


Further detail of these amendments was set out in the Extraordinary Cabinet report of 3 September which could be viewed on the Borough Council’s website; together with the completed evidence base and the Infrastructure Delivery Plan.


Members were advised that, subject to Council approval, the next step would be further public consultation (Regulation 19) and all parish/town councils would be provided with a detailed information pack and a full set of documents to comment on.  It was envisaged that a six week public consultation would start at the beginning of October 2018, or very soon after, and would give local residents and other parties the opportunity to comment on the proposals.  These comments/representations would be submitted to the Secretary of State with the Local Plan and would ultimately be considered by an appointed Planning Inspector. 


A number of tools would be used during the consultation including the website, social media platforms, YouTube, infographics and an opportunity for face to face discussions via drop in sessions.  There would also be hard copies of documents at various locations (Council offices and libraries) to maximise coverage.


Although there was opportunity to comment on the Plan (via the Regulation 19 consultation arrangements) it was unlikely that the Borough Council would make any substantive changes as the document was believed to be ‘sound’.  However, the Planning Inspector could decide on amendments and it was, therefore, important for parish/town councils and residents to participate in the consultation process.  All information related to the draft Local Plan, including representations received under Regulation 19, would be submitted to the Secretary of State and made publically available, subject to General Data Protection Regulations compliance.


It was emphasised that if Council did not approve the draft Local Plan the process would need to be substantially restarted and be subject to the revised NPPF which would lead to significant delay and an increase in housing figures to address. 


The following comments and points were raised, discussed and noted:


-        A number of representations had been received in advance of the Regulation 19 consultation and it was suggested that these be resubmitted to avoid confusion.


-        It was confirmed that the 15% referred to in relation to the proposed relief road in Borough Green equated to 450 new dwellings. In addition, the Local Plan set out the proposed approach for the road which would be subject to detailed appraisal as part of master-planning and ultimately a planning application.  It was also intended that the road would be integral part of the proposed development and be fully developer funded.  Funding streams to assist the implementation of the overall scheme were also being explored but the Local Plan proposals were not dependent on that initiative. 


-        If the Planning Inspector returned the draft Local Plan for modification there should not be an uplift in housing figures as long as it was submitted during the transitional period. i.e before 24 January 2019.


-        A priority at this stage was to help residents understand the context of the draft Local Plan and Parish Councils had a role to play in that regard.  Representations would be sent to the Secretary of State to review and make a final decision.


-        Infrastructure and transport remained a significant concern for most areas and Members were reassured that the onus would be on developers to ensure appropriate infrastructure existed to mitigate the impact of proposed development.


-        Members were advised that Transport Assessments had been undertaken by independent consultants in collaboration with Kent County and Tonbridge and Malling Borough Councils.  


-        It was confirmed that there was a collaborative approach between neighbouring authorities and other public sector organisations, such as health and education, when considering the cumulative effect on infrastructure.  However, it was unrealistic to expect new developments to address historic infrastructure issues.


-        There was good communication with local Clinical Commissioning Groups which had identified need for additional facilities to accompany new development.  Beyond that there was limited ability for the Borough Council to directly address wider health service problems.  It was hoped that the Health Authority would have regard to housing provision when commissioning services.


-        The process of a Local Plan Public Examination was summarised and once an Inspector was appointed they would contact the Borough Council to make arrangements for a hearing.  The venue would be within Tonbridge and Malling.  Public examinations ordinarily took 4 – 6 weeks to review all the evidence with a further 3 months before a final decision was made.  There was also the possibility of the Inspector asking to hear from those who had made representations but this was subject to their discretion and subject to the points made.


-        Concern was expressed around viability assessments and affordable housing.  Members were advised that whole Plan Viability Assessments, setting out parameters around land values and costings would be provided to developers, to reduce the potential of over paying for land.


-        Reference was made to the Duty to Co-operate and the Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning and Infrastructure (Councillor Howard Rogers) advised he was in close communication with his counterparts at neighbouring authorities to identify areas of potential conflict and to commit to a statement of common ground.


-        Flexibility around parking standards was welcomed as it provided opportunity to address parking concerns as part of a planning application.



Finally, the Panel was reminded that the Local Plan was a strategic document and would be a valuable tool in supporting and guiding development management throughout the Borough.