I have just returned from a briefing about the local development plan. In attendance (doing the briefing) were Anne Brereton (Head of Places Directorate SMBC), Rachael Batts (Spatial Development), Gary Palmer (Head of Planning) and Cllr Ian Courts (Cabinet Member for responsibility of Economic Development and Land). In addition to me were Cllr Richard Holt, Cllr Linda Brown and Josh Onyons (representing Dickens Heath parish Council).
The working report for the briefing was an item on the agenda for the Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Land at his decision making session later during the evening. I have provided links to this report, as well as the two appendices: http://eservices.solihull.gov.uk/mgInternet/documents/s8353/Report.pdf : http://eservices.solihull.gov.uk/mgInternet/documents/s8354/Appendix%20A.pdf ; http://eservices.solihull.gov.uk/mgInternet/documents/s8355/Technical%20Appendix.pdf .
The council makes this position statement in light of the judgement made following a judicial review into the Local Development Plan (LDP) by Gallagher’s and Lion Court Homes in respect of two sites in Tidbury Green. In the LDP two sites were returned to the green belt, having previously been designated as possible sites for development. In the judicial review (JR) the judge was critical of the Planning Inspector who signed off the councils LDP by returning these sites to the green belt and also for agreeing Solihull’s five year housing land requirement from the Local Plan as 3,847 instead of 4,526. Due to this judgement Solihull does not have a five year housing supply of 4,526 homes (it does have 3,847 – as agreed by the planning inspector).
All sites mentioned from this point were considered by the borough Planning Committee at its meeting on 29 January 2014 and all applications were either refused because they were in the green belt and not in the LDP (in respect of the two Tidbury Green sites) or refused on phasing grounds (in respect of two Dickens Heath sites and one Cheswick Green site). The Cheswick Green site, at Mount Dairy Farm was also refused because of flood risk issues not being addressed. Several of the developers appealed against the decision by the local authority and these appeals are likely to be heard in September/October this year.
SMBC has sought leave to appeal against the JR but the decision as to whether the appeal will be heard or not may be still six weeks away. If the appeal does take place then this may take several months – in the meantime, although the local plan is still the adopted plan for the borough there is a serious issue in respect of the number of houses to evidence a five year housing supply. Solihull is therefore almost 500 houses short. This is what places the two sites at Dickens Heath (Braggs Farm and Cleobury Lane) and the Mount Dairy Farm in Cheswick Green at risk. The council finds itself in a position whereby it can no longer defend these three appeals on the grounds we have a five year housing supply. In effect, these three sites, which were in phases two and three of the LDP, will be brought forward to go towards the five year housing supply. The only sweetener I can offer is that, especially in relation to the Mount Dairy Farm is, there are serious flood risk issues for the developer to overcome. At the planning meeting of 29 January committee members heard that the Environment Agency had issues with the proposals and this was one of the reasons for the refusal.
I asked how the borough could adapt too so many houses being built in such a short period of time, questioning the sustainability of this. This will be an issue the council would need to address and would be seeking conditions to ensure service issues were addressed. The question was also asked if other sites in the borough could be brought forward: here it was explained that in Blythe especially, developers owned the land and wanted to build on it. There have not been the planning applications in other areas of the borough meaning sites could not be brought forward.
Richard Holt mentioned specific issues relating to Dickens Heath; the unfinished roads (unadopted) and the garden square development. This was acknowledged by the officers and although a lot of work was being done to ensure a developer was able to take on the development, negotiations between the developer and the administrator (BNP Parabas) are progressing, but very slowly. The acknowledgment was made that if areas such as Dickens Heath and Cheswick Green have to ‘take the pain’ then they would need lots of attention to redress this.
Where do we go from here?
The appeals will still be heard by way of an Inquiry, from September onwards. The planning inspector will here representations from interested parties and reach a decision at a later stage. I am sure, that despite the position statement from the council, there are still issues to be resolved for the appeals to be successful. However, whereas I was very confident of successfully objecting to all three appeals before the JR, I can not state that I am certain of success now. I will be liaising with the parish councils to seek their views.
I fully acknowledge that only six months ago the council was celebrating successfully adopting its local plan, being the first council in the midlands to do so. The planning inspector, in his report that accompanied the LDP (report via this link: http://www.solihull.gov.uk/Portals/0/Planning/LDF/SolihullLP.pdf lauded the plan, finding it soundly based and agreed with all the phasing within the plan. However, the JR has been cruel to Blythe ward, where developers own the land and/or are keen to build. Even though the judge criticised the planning inspector (and not Solihull Council) in his judgement, it is the council which has to adapt.