Article published 06/08/2019.
At a meeting of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s Planning and Transport Cabinet Advisory Board last night (Monday 5 August), it was resolved that the new draft Local Plan (Found here: Draft local plan: regulation 18 consultation draft) be put to Cabinet members on 15 August for a decision as to whether the plan should go out to its first round of consultation in September. This is the first step in the long process to adoption (expected December 2021). A purely procedural step, by all accounts, and a decision by the Cabinet cannot involve either the introduction or removal of any specific sites allocated for development. The Head of Planning’s report to Cabinet will broadly follow the contents of that put before the Advisory Board on Monday: Consultation on Draft Local Plan 2016 - 2036 (Regulation 18 and Sustainability Appraisal.
The new Local Plan will cover the period 2016 to 2036 so to some degree it is retrospective. It seeks to provide some 14,776 homes across that period (678 p.a.), 9% above the minimum requirement calculated by the government’s standard assessment.
The most controversial element of the new Local Plan is the ‘de-designation’ of 5.35% of the Borough’s Green Belt, with no plans for a replacement. Many will be devastated by this news but, whilst not wishing to undermine the effect of the de-designation, it should be remembered that the Green Belt (the Metropolitan Green Belt, to give it its full name) is only one type of designated protected “green space” area in the Borough; much of it is also given over to the national designation of the even more highly protected Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Local Plan consultations (and thereafter the Examination in Public) are never a comfortable or quick (or quiet!) affair, and the preservation of the Green Belt is likely to be one of the key arguments which may seek to block development.
Local Planning Authorities, however, do not undertake these tasks lightly and they will have invested heavily in, robust, evidence-based research, reports and testing into the best places for the proposed (required) housing in the area. If this test of soundness is not satisfied, the Plan falls at the first hurdle.
If approved by Cabinet members on 15 August, the first consultation period will run from 20 September to 1 November 2019. Hundreds, if not thousands, of responses, are expected.
The government has recently published a Procedure Guide for Local Plan Examinations, which aims to help readers understand the process a little better. The TWBC Local Plan is quite a way off the Examination stage yet though.
On the current schedule, TWBC does not propose to enter into the second consultation stage until late next year (August-October), with the fully agreed new draft Local Plan to be submitted to the Secretary of State in December 2020 and the Examination in Public anticipated to take place in Spring/Summer 2021.