Decision Maker: Council
Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
1. Questions from Graham Bright (Grove Fields Residents Association) to Councillor Williams:
Q1: I note that the Leader of the Council is being requested to write to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government asking that the figure of 922 houses per annum for Dacorum be revised downwards. You state that this because this Council believes that the Government’s centrally-determined targets for housing development in the Borough will adversely affect the development of the Dacorum Local Plan, forcing high levels of new housing onto green belt land. If the motion is agreed, please can you confirm that Dacorum will wait for the central government response to this letter before commencing the public consultation?
Response:I don’t believe that the motion and the item before us this evening in relation to the local plan are mutually exclusive and we will consider both of these in due course this evening, and members will contribute to the reasons why they support the motion and/or the consultation. I do not believe that we cannot do both. We currently have a figure, the latest from the government, of 922 as stated by Mr Bright. As you will see from the motion when we discuss it that’s not a figure that we necessarily think is appropriate. We don’t know the course of the government’s reiterations, and not forgetting the ONS figures have not yet been accepted as the figure that should be used. We will still be looking nationally for potentially the 300,000 that has been quoted on several occasions. I still think it’s appropriate for us to consult with our residents because I think we need the evidence base if we are to contest the 922, and if that figure is not reduced over time and we need to contest at 922 I think having consulted with our residents will strengthen the argument should our local plan not be in conformity with the numbers required. So in essence, I don’t think that agreeing to one includes the other.
Q2: I note that the authority has delegated to make changes to the Emerging Strategy for Growth , including anything necessary to reflect the Cabinet’s and/or Council discussions and decision, to the Assistant Director Planning, Development and Infrastructure in consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Infrastructure. Please can you confirm that the FINAL Local Plan, once amended as a consequence of the public consultation, will be voted on by local councillors?
Response: Yes, absolutely. The delegation to the director in consultation with the portfolio holder only relates to minor changes to wording or to reflect any decisions taken by our councillors at this stage in amending our draft consultation. Any final decision will still be subject to the process of the scrutiny committee and the cabinet, and only the full council has the authority to agree a local plan. So yes, the final decision has to be one taken by full council.
2. Questions from Malcolm Allen to Councillor Williams:
Q1: How can the ancient Market Town of Berkhamsted cope with 2230 new homes, in addition to the hundreds already under construction, and a possible population rise of 41% when our current infrastructure is inadequate? In particular how will the southern side of Berkhamsted, which carries the bulk of this expansion handle the enormous increase in traffic flow primarily along Shootersway which is already a rat run for the sole access to the A41 and which suffers large back up of traffic at rush hour even now. Backups which pollute the air as children walk to the four schools served by this route. A further hazard is the narrowing of the road between Kings Road and Crossoak Road causing a hazard when two HGVs pass with their wing mirrors hanging over the pavement thus endangering pedestrians. This plan detracts from the character of the area, destroys Green Belt, damages bio-diversity and converts a sorely needed playing field, Haslam’s, into a housing estate. We will need new signs for our town stating 'welcome to Berkhamsted, a modern example of inglorious sprawl.' Are you happy taking responsibility for that?
Response: I’m happy to take responsibility for the fact that this council needs to go out and consult on the local plan. I’m under no illusions that Berkhamsted like many parts of the borough is under considerable constraint in terms of the amount of development it can take, and this consultation will inform that level of development which is appropriate for a particular area. All of the local plan process will be backed up by transport infrastructure studies which will give a very clear indication of the level of development that can be taken in a particular area given the amount of infrastructure that is either affordable or possible to provide given the constraints of any particular location. As an authority we take responsibility for the plan and as we develop the plan we will ensure that the constraints of a particular area, the infrastructure requirements of an area, or indeed the infrastructure limits of an area are taken into account when coming to a final figure for any particular level of development.
Q1: How is it in the best interests of the public, specifically the residents of Dacorum who you represent, to put the Draft Local Plan out for consultation during a pandemic when there is no reasonable prospect of engaging in normal democratic processes?
Response: We recognise that additional restrictions will be in place until 2 December and the current health situation does make consultation different to what it would be previously, but the fact that we’re all here this evening using this different form of technology to hold his meeting and have more people engaged in this meeting than normally would be is an indication that there are ways in which we can consult and engage the public other than by direct meetings, which of course I recognise during this consultation we will not be in a position to have more traditional public meetings in halls and community centres etc. and we have very clear government advice that we should not allow the current situation to stop the progress of local plans. There is an expectation from government that the planning process will continue and that we make use of available technologies in order to do so. The council is seeking to start the consultation in late November, and traditionally these consultations run for six weeks. We planned this one for eight weeks and as we will come on to later we intend to extend that further to be well clear of the Christmas and new year period and allow people to engage. The Council is seeking to make the consultation as accessible as possible and will be undertaking the following activities:
- Extending the consultation for 10 weeks, instead of the statutory 6 weeks
- Hosting a permanent ‘virtual’ exhibition on our website throughout the consultation. The exhibition will allow people to leave questions for Officers.
- Providing copies of the documents for inspection at the Forum (where an appointment can be made to view the document)
- Providing copies of the documents to libraries where these will be available for loan.
- Produced a video advertising the consultation
- Published articles in both the Dacorum Digest (63,000 copies) and the digital digest (11,400 subscribers)
Q2: Why can’t you afford your constituents that you represent by equal respect that delaying consultation to a post pandemic time which will also allow correspondence with government MP’s as well as allowing the latest ONS data to be incorporated into the evidence base which is isn’t at present.
Response: The decision to go for a full review is not a decision taken solely by the assistant director but by the council. The plan was approved in 2013 as I’m sure Mr Harbidge who I know takes a keen interest in these matters is aware. This plan was challenged through the courts and the judge came to a view that he would support our plan as did the inspector subject to us understanding an early partial review. Although the plan runs until 2031 the government requirement is that the plans are reviewed every five years. So whilst we could have gone for a partial review we would have been straight into a full review almost before we finished the partial reviews so the view was taken that it would be better to do a full review because by 2018 we would have been well in to doing that anyway. Similarly if we got to the point where this plan, which we’re currently at the draft stage, was adopted and takes us through to 2038, we will still be doing a full review of that plan in 2026/2027 assuming we adopt in 2022. We are required to do a full review every five years. So once we got to 2017 and we have delayed this process because of confusions and uncertainties over government numbers and there’s no uncertainty that the latest ONS figures will be embedded in the governments requirements. The ONS figures as I’m sure you’re aware are considerably lower than the manifesto commitments of all the major political parties to deliver an increasing number of homes. It’s possibly the case that the government may, through looking at reconfiguring the algorithm, redistribute that requirement elsewhere. It is not yet clear that requirement is going to reduce and I, as leader of this council, want us to get to a position where we are in the best possible shape to defend our plan should we come under a requirement to produce more homes than we think is acceptable. I’m sure you’re aware our figure a while ago was 1025 and is being reduced to 922. There’s no guarantee when the government reconstitute those figures that it won’t go up or down, so we need to be in a position to be absolutely resolute in our defence of that position.
Publication date: 26/11/2020
Date of decision: 18/11/2020
Decided at meeting: 18/11/2020 - Council