One step forward and two steps back

The work involved in producing an acceptable Local Plan seems interminable.

Much has been written about the Government’s plan to build the country out of recession and, to that end, under the Draconian planning laws (the National Planning Policy Framework or NPPF) every Council was expected to produce a Local Plan. The Plan outlines where housing should be built in the coming plan period (typically 15 years).

It seems that the process is so fraught with difficulty that only 50% of Councils have managed to wend their way through the lengthy Examination in Public and achieve the ultimate prize of an adopted Local Plan. These Councils are in the enviable position of being able to decide where development should happen.

Where there is no Local Plan in place, policy is determined by the NPPF which insists on a presumption in favour of sustainable development.

For East Devon, the Examination in Public took place in February this year and one of the conclusions reached by Anthony Thickett, the Planning Inspector, was that there was insufficient evidence to inform the numbers of houses proposed.

Joint research (Strategic Housing Market Assessment or SHMA) was already under way across East Devon, Mid Devon, Teignbridge, Exeter City and Dartmoor National Park Authority and the piece of work was due to be completed this summer, allowing Mr Thickett to return in the autumn for further consultation and the likelihood of the Local Plan being adopted in early 2015, or more realistically summer 2015.

However, next week’s Planning Committee (DMC) meeting will debate a paper written by the Planning Policy Manager explaining that the SHMA report has been delayed and will not be available for some months and this will delay the whole Local Plan process.

The meeting, being held at the EDDC offices at the Knowle in Sidmouth, is on Tuesday 26 August, starting at 2 o’clock.

And the debate is likely to be a heated one.

Following my email to the Planning Policy Manager on the likely date for the adoption of the Local Plan, he responded “At this stage I would not be able to give an adoption date but if things do go along at a decent pace, as I trust they will now do, I would still consider that Summer 2015 could be a reasonable adoption date.”

*****

The agenda for the DMC meeting on 26 August is available here: http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/development_management_agenda_mins_remit.htm

The report itself is available here: http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/dm260814-emerging_housing_numbers.pdf

EDDC’s press release (entitled ‘Housing growth: Progress being made but full picture still to emerge’ is available here: http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/communications_and_consultation.htm?newsid=1174

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3 Responses to One step forward and two steps back

  1. Paul says:

    1. The SHMA consultancy contract seems to me to be in a shambles.

    Section 3 of the report to next week’s DMC gives the breakdown of the PAS Best Practice into 6 stages, and paragraph 3.2 states that the work on the SHMA has only reached the first of the 6 stages in the PAS guidance.

    Moreover, in a both letter to the Planning Inspector in mid-April 2014 http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/lettersinspector12.pdf and the draft action plan of 8 May http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/actionplan02.pdf attached to a letter to the Planning Inspector on 22 May 2014 http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/lettertomrthickett220514.pdf Mr Dickens was saying that the SHMA would be available in June 2014.

    I have no reason to doubt that Mr Dickens was reporting these dates because that was what he was being told by DCA, but I cannot see how DCA could be reporting in May 2014 that they would finish in June 2014, and yet in August 2014 we have only completed the first of 6 stages to complete the SHMA.

    The current report says NOTHING about the state of the SHMA contract with DCA. My experience in public sector outsourcing (having worked on both sides of the fence – though admittedly in IT rather than Planning Policy), this is likely now to be a major issue. DCA is certainly running late (and in consultancy, time is literally money) and so very likely to be running over budget and likely to make a loss on this piece of work, and it seems to me that there is a very high probability that there will need to be major contract renegotiations (DCA will likely claim a “change in scope”, EDDC will deny most of it, arguments will go back and forth – all of which will delay things further), and possibly eventually an agreement for EDDC to spend a lot more money spent to get this work completed by DCA – or worse still the contract being re-let and re-awarded to someone else to start again at the beginning.

    So questions I want to know about the DCA contract:

    A. Why has the SHMA not been delivered by DCA? Why were they still predicting they would deliver in in June as late as early May, and why were we surprised by its non-delivery with only 1 of 6 stages currently completed?

    B. Is DCA still committed to deliver the SHMA within the current contract & existing costs?

    If so, what is DCA’s revised schedule, and what happens if they miss it again?

    If not, what are the EDDC plans to get the contract back on the rails so that the SHMA can be delivered, and what are the likely timescales and additional costs for revised or new contracts?

    (See https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/strategic_housing_market_assessm
    for my FoI request on this.)

    2. Timescales

    The special DMC meeting on 8 May 2014 http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/combined_dmc_agenda_080514.pdf page 5 onwards, discusses the draft Action Plan response to the Planning Inspector, and on page 19 there is a timetable which suggests that by now they would be providing “Feedback report on comments received [from the Consultation on the new SHMA] to Development Management Committee” for approval so that “Feedback sent to Inspector” by the end of August.

    However if you look at the draft Action Plan, it is clear that there are several other pieces of work to do before Feedback to the Inspector, so this seemed unrealistic even then.

    As far as I can see, the following still need to be done:

    A. The remaining 5 stages of the SHMA as documented in Section 3 of the current report.

    B. The activities described in the draft Action Plan.

    C. The activities in the timetable from 8 May.

    Personally I cannot see these being completed this year, and I would guess that it might take considerably longer than that.

    SUMMARY

    The DMC needs to get a grip and take both control and responsibility for the completion of the Local Plan.

    They need to find out the state of the contract with DCA and get it back on the rails.

    They need to create a robust plan for redelivery of the revised Local Plan to the Inspector, providing additional resources to the Planning Policy unit if that is required to speed things up.

  2. Pingback: When will EDDC’s Local Plan be ready? | East Devon Alliance

  3. Pingback: Tetchy meeting to receive report on delay in housing numbers | Susie Bond

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