A verbal update from the Head of Planning on the Local Plan.
Members received a verbal report from the Head of Planning on the Local Plan, as there had been some further developments with the Inspector and the Programme Officer. This Panel had received a report before Christmas which had gone through the Council’s committee process. This update related to the OAN assessment of housing needs which was agreed at 13,800 and the Council submitted a package of sites of approximately 13,277 homes. The Inspector has reviewed these sites and has written a letter in response stating that the sites in the submitted Plan together with sites in the new plan; if taken together do statically meet the OAN of 16,000 homes but he is not yet convinced by the exceptional circumstances or that they all meet the soundness test; so he therefore intends to host further hearing sessions. He will examine the changes to the OAN evidence, he recognises the work the Council has undertaken in terms of population etc. and he will host hearing sessions on this issue and on the new sites that have been identified. It was noted that he also intends to examine sites adjacent to excluded villages such as Welwyn, Welham Green, Brookmans Park and Cuffley, which made it through the HELAA assessment process but have not been selected by the Council for submission. He also wants to investigate the evidence that has led to the rejection of sites at Digswell and Oaklands and Mardley Heath, to ensure that the distribution of housing is valid.
He did not intend taking action on the Potters Bar safeguarded site of PB1, as it is a late stage submission in the Plan and not having been subjected to the same arduous consultation/examination. There are also sustainability and deliverability reservations in respect of this site.
The Panel noted that hearing sessions have been scheduled for 24, 25 and 26 February to consider OAN and windfall issues. Hearing sessions have been arranged for village sites between 1 to 18 March 2021. Hearings may continue after 18 March if elections are postponed, as no purdah period will apply.
At the end of last year Members were advised of the new standard housing method which was reducing the need for housing and if the Council did not have the Local Plan it would have a target of 667 homes per year. The Government has reverted back to the previously introduced Standard Method and this equates to 875 homes a year, which is higher than the one the Council had been anticipating through the Local Plan process.
The Panel will be kept updated on all developments. Officers will now be compiling responses/statements to the hearing questions the Inspector poses and representing evidence that has been prepared in the site selection. Officers will put forward the decisions made by this Panel, as agreed via the Council’s decision-making process and seek to convince him of the view made by this Council.
A Member referred to the windfall issues and stated that he will comment later on under item 9. A question was raised in respect of Officers responding to the Inspector’s questions, as it was the Members’ understanding that the Inspector was not going to table any questions before the hearings. The Council should put forward a robust position on this matter. The Officer explained that the Inspector was currently carrying out consultations on the Council’s updated evidence. The one on the OAN will be completed on 26 January 2021 and there is also one being conducted on the windfall calculations. The Inspector will put together an agenda following the consultation responses and previous statements. He will not be putting forward any questions prior to the hearing but Officers will be defending the Council’s position at the hearings. The Member was concerned that Officers may not know what will be tabled at the meetings. It was clarified that Officers will hopefully have sufficient notice to assemble responses to the agenda items. The Member requested information from the consultation in respect of windfall numbers, as it is relevant to his impending statements under agenda item 9.