Council sticks with local plan timetable despite parishes' housing fears
- Credit: Ian Burt/Chris Bishop
A council cabinet has voted to press ahead with its original timetable to review the district’s local plan - amid fears from parish councils it will expose their areas to speculative housing developments.
Breckland council's cabinet voted in September to review a policy in its local plan - a framework for the scale and location of housing developments - with the intention of keeping it up-to-date until November 2024, while timetabling a "substantive review" of the entire document for 2027.
Independent councillor Roger Atterwill had expressed concern over the plan holding less weight in those three years, during which he said communities could be vulnerable to "aggressive development applications".
In October, a cross-party majority of the council's overview and scrutiny commission recommended the cabinet reconsider its decision, but on Monday the cabinet voted to stick with its original timetable.
Officers said a faster timetable would require a budget overspend of £860,000 and would need extra planning officers during a national shortage of qualified planners.
Executive director of place and delivery Rob Walker said there would be no automatic “cliff edge” in 2024 in which the plan would be considered outdated, but that local plans instead lose their weight over a gradual period of time.
Cabinet member for finance Philip Cowen said: “As we all know, planning officers do not grow on trees."
He said a faster timetable would mean spending a “shedload” of money attempting to deliver a plan which may not be deliverable in that timeframe.
Cabinet members Alison Webb and Ian Sherwood meanwhile expressed concern about a faster timetable necessitating cuts from council projects focused around mental health and the environment.
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Mr Atterwill said the local plan review should already have begun, but that there had instead been “dither and delay”.
He added that Breckland’s decision to outsource its planning function to private company Capita was meant to ensure staff shortages were not a problem.
Mr Walker said important local and national factors had meant the council had waited before starting the review.
He said Breckland had previously drawn on staff from other parts of the country when needed, but added “Capita is not immune to the challenges that all local planning authorities have".
Responding to the cabinet’s argument that a slower timetable would enable more consultation with residents, Labour group leader Terry Jermy said: “Don’t worry about meeting in village halls in the future, you can meet in the shiny new houses that will be popping up around you.”