(Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy and Implementation)) To receive a presentation updating the current position of the Local Plan.
The Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy) gave a presentation to members that provided an update on the current status of the Local Plan. The same presentation had also been shown at the Members Briefing prior to this Local Plan Cabinet Committee meeting.
The Local Plan Submission Version (SV) had been submitted for examination in September 2018. A series of public hearings had been held by the Local Plan Inspector from February to June 2019. Appendix 6 had been submitted in addition to the Local Plan SV as part of the LP policy and set out the site specific requirements for each site allocation.
The Inspector’s response was received by the Council on 2 August 2019 and had contained a number of actions that the Council needed to take. It set out further work that was required including a number of main modifications. The main modifications included a sustainability appraisal and an updated Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA) as the Inspector had not been able to prove beyond all reasonable ‘scientific’ doubt, the robustness of the HRA, which would involve undertaking additional transport modelling and air quality modelling. The Inspector had accepted the proposed housing requirement of 11,400 new dwellings, employment areas and traveller sites for the District. Further discussions with Transport for London (TfL) would be required in connection with the Local Plan sites at Loughton and Debden Station car parks in relation to the limit of the height of the developments, as a greater quantity of development was being proposed by TfL than in the Local Plan. A review of site capacity work in the South Epping masterplan was also required as was the deletion of the proposed allocations at Jessel Green (Loughton) and Limes Farm (Chigwell).
The undertaking of additional scoping work in order to meet the Inspector’s concerns had taken longer that Planning Policy had hoped and there would be further sustained appraisal work. Updating and revising the transport and air quality modelling would be necessary for the HRA to understand the vehicle fleet mix for traffic using the Epping Forest Special Area of Conservation (SAC). A meeting had been arranged for early next month with Natural England to update and agree the methodology to be used. This would feed into a final mitigation strategy addressing both the recreational impact on the Forest and the air quality impact across the whole of the District.
In relation to what the Council was doing regarding the current position with planning application permissions, a statement was available on the website. A review of all planning applications was underway to see which ones could be granted, if there would be no increase in average daily travelling. The Council was taking further legal advice in relation to the extent that other planning applications could impact on the SAC and air quality, and a report on this progress would be going to Cabinet in December 2019.
When the additional work had been completed, a formal 6-week public consultation would be required. The Inspector would look at the comments received before sending a final report. Finally, the Local Plan would then go forward to Council for adoption.
Councillor A Lion thanked the Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy) for this very detailed report and said that a milestone step-by-step plan to show how the Local Plan was progressing would be useful. Also, on the non-allocated sites, would there be supporting information on planning applications that covered any mitigation issues that needed to be put in place, so that those reports would accompany planning applications going to the planning committees? The Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy) replied that firstly as the current work was planned to last until mid-May 2020, the Council would be sending monthly reports back to the Inspector. The Inspector would guide the Council on what it could put into the public domain and a report giving an update on Local Plan implementation would be going to Cabinet in November 2019 and the Planning Portfolio Holder would be providing a similar report to Council. Regarding non-allocated sites, the Council would cautiously deal with planning applications for these in accordance with the Council’s strategy under policy SP2. It was important because non-allocated sites were over and above the site allocations and not part of the Local Plan and the transport and air quality monitoring.
Councillor C C Pond asked if the officer could confirm for clarity that the modelling of future flows of traffic etc would be made on the basis of the omitted or modified sites as identified by the Inspector being excluded? Could the officer also say when the future of the car park developments in Debden and Loughton would be sure, given that this was dependent on TfL, without any information, to obey the Inspector’s injunction in the Inspector’s letter of 2 August 2019? The Chairman and Planning Portfolio Holder, Councillor J Philip, replied that the Council clearly had to take full regard of the Inspector’s advice in that letter. The nationally defined space standards were important as space was important for people to be able to live properly as was good design. If the Inspector had specifically instructed the Council to take something out or do further work, it would. The Inspector had asked the Council to come to an agreement with TfL on these two station car park sites and a response was expected from TfL at the end of the month. The Council would make it clear that it could move forward on its site proposals for these station sites, or it could remove these two Local Plan sites altogether. The Interim Assistant Director (Planning Policy) said that in paragraph 38 (a) of the Council’s response to the Inspector, it was proposing to re-run the traffic and air quality modelling to take account of the main modifications proposed and similarly any deletions or changes in the capacity of sites.
Councillor H Kauffman was concerned about the TfL approach generally as any development of those sites should include an upgrade of the station sites. There was no disabled (DDA) access into Loughton Station and that any benefits from that development were focussed on station improvements so TfL could concentrate on running the trains and make improvements to that service. The Chairman replied that the Council’s infrastructure delivery plans were a key section of the Local Plan. Building better places to live not just houses, was central to what the Council wanted, and to make sure the quality of places developed was as good for residents as possible.
Councillor D Wixley asked if the main modifications were taking a number of houses out of the Local Plan and if no new site allocations were needed, would more houses be squeezed on to the remaining sites and how would that work? The Chairman replied that when the Council submitted its Regulation 19 (Local Plan SV responses), it was already providing more that the housing allocation of 11,400 houses. It also knew that some sites looked viable but might not come forward within the timeframe. The Inspector did want the Council to look at its numbers - the minimum numbers rather than target numbers. If developers said that they could make better use of their land, then this would be assessed, especially if this meant the Council could take less Green Belt land.