Mid Devon District Council has been asked to continue to prepare a revised joint strategic statutory plan following the death of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan.
Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com
The Greater Exeter Strategic Plan was due to provide the overall strategy and level of housing and employment land required across Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon and Teignbridge in the period to 2040.
But last Thursday, East Devon District Council voted to withdraw from the process, throwing the overall strategy into tatters.
Mid Devon councillors, when they met on Wednesday night, had also been recommended to withdraw from the process, but following East Devon’s decision, the cabinet recommendation had been superseded by events.
Wednesday’s meeting saw calls to send the matter back to cabinet to bring forward a new recommendation rejected, as was an amendment to explore with neighbouring planning authorities, options for cooperation in meeting joint planning objectives with a decision based on how to proceed made by full council within six months.
Councillors eventually backed an amendment put forward by the leader of council that Mid Devon should commit to prepare a revised joint strategic statutory plan and that should officers subsequently advise that it does not prove to be the most appropriate option in planning terms, then to consider a review of other options for further strategic and cross-boundary planning matters, and that officers should bring forward the preparation of the next Local Plan Review.
Putting forward his amendment, Cllr Bob Deed, the council leader, said: “It is very clear, GESP is dead. We will need to get on with discussions with the other councils formerly in GESP, and there is no justification for any delay past tonight.
Councillor Bob Deed, Leader of the Council, Party: Independent, Ward: Cadbury
“I was in favour of working together in GESP, but East Devon’s withdrawal means the site options document cannot go out to consultation due to the East Devon content of it. The GESP cannot now continue in the way envisaged due to the amended geographical area and the consideration has now moved on from whether to stay in GESP to a broader issue of how we want to go ahead with strategic planning and if we want to work with neighbouring councils.
“GESP was born out of opportunities to work and address cross-boundary spatial planning issues in a more meaningful way and reflective of the geographical travel to work area. Informal working together is no substitute for joint working with the neighbouring councils and continuing to plan jointly sends a clear message of commitment and engagement.”
“I will enter the discussions in good faith to see what can be done for the benefit of the people in Mid Devon along with a collaborative approach with the authorities to which we are bound.”
Cllr Bob Evans, the leader of the Conservative group, added: “GESP doesn’t exist anymore as in the papers as another authority chose to pull out. We need to go away and talk to our neighbours and come up with a plan as to how we take control of what happening in the area. This amendment gives us more of an opportunity. Is it GESP 2? I don’t know, but East Devon doesn’t want a GESP 2 and we don’t want a GESP 2, so that is not what we will get.”
But Cllr Luke Taylor, who had recommended that the council pull out of GESP, said that Cllr Deed’s proposal, which will still conduct a further call for sites process, ‘looked to create a new GESP’. He added: “It cannot be ruled out that if we remain in this ‘GESP’, that we might have to take more than our required number of housing. The criteria for the new GESP will continue with the original policies so the sites will remain and it could decimate the rural communities. I did originally support GESP but I won’t make that mistake again.”
Cllr Graeme Barnell added: “Members need to lead the process of renegotiating GESP, and we haven’t learnt if we allow officers to go ahead and form a reheated version. There were some major problems with GESP and we don’t want a reheated version of the same thing.”
Cllr Jo Norton added that the main message she was getting from her residents is they don’t see GESP as an opportunity but something opposed on them that they don’t have any say over, while Cllr Elizabeth Wainwright said that while there was some good stuff in GESP, the world has changed and it is just not suitable anymore.
She added: “COVID-19, climate change, and Brexit, are all threats to the opportunities this was supposed to give us. It feels wise to stop and say what the world we are now in, and what is the best plan to serve us? GESP is not fit for purpose anymore.”
Following councillors voting by 26 votes to 13 against sending the matter back to cabinet to make a recommendation, they then voted by 22 votes to 15 with one abstentions against Cllr Barnell’s amendment to explore with neighbouring planning authorities options for cooperation in meeting joint planning objectives, before voting by 25 votes to 10, with two abstentions, for Cllr Deed’s amendment.
Mid Devon will now commit to prepare a revised joint strategic statutory plan, but should this prove not to be the most appropriate option in planning terms, consider a review of other options for further strategic and cross-boundary planning matters with willing participatory authorities in the Housing Market Area.
Officers will review and incorporate relevant elements of the GESP Draft Policies and Site Options consultation document and other supporting documentation and evidence that remain valid and jointly prepare necessary technical studies and evidence for the new strategic plan, including conducting a further call for sites process, align monitoring and share resources where there are planning and cost benefits for doing so.
The Council’s commitment to the delivery of high quality development at Culm Garden Village as part of the Garden Communities Programme has been reaffirmed, and officers will be tasked to bring forward the preparation of the next Local Plan Review.