All change on the Planning Front for East Devon.
Ever since David Cameron’s coalition government’s efforts to provide local communities with a say in local planning decisions with the “Localism Act” in 2011 (giving communities the power to draft “Neighbourhood Plans,” designed to provide a degree of self-determination to how local communities could be developed in the future) the powerful developers and landowners lobby has been active to reclaim their powerful grip on developing our communities.
First was the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012 which threw out the old planning regulations and provided a “developer-driven” new planning policy, with just a “nod” to the Localism Act, Neighboured Plans and District wide plans.
The new NPPF introduced a policy that if the District or Neighbourhood Plan was not “up to date” then there would be a presumption of allowing any proposed development from a developer. Therefore, Councils and local communities quickly set about drawing up their Neighbourhood Plans and District Plans to plug the gap created by the new 2012 NPPF policies.
East Devon District Council who had been dragging their feet for years to complete their Local Plan, finally managed to obtain the approval of the Planning Inspectorate in January 2016 to cover the period up to 2031. Lympstone had got its Neighbourhood Plan approved in 2015 and since then over 30 Neighbourhood Plans are either approved or in the process of being drafted by community groups within East Devon.
It was therefore thought that East Devon and its communities had substantial protection from greedy landowners and developers up to 2031 and with the extra protection of the East Devon Villages Plan, approved in July 2018 (which gave further defined policies for larger Villages and some large Business Parks) residents and developers appeared to understand where development would or would not be allowed.
However, in late 2016 Exeter City Council, whose Chief Executive Karime Hassan (previously East Devon’s District Council officer who created and developed the concept of the new town of Cranbrook) proposed a joint “Strategic Plan”, along with neighbouring councils East Devon, Teignbridge, and Mid Devon.
The four councils then started a joint over-riding masterplan for Exeter and the surrounding area known as the GESP (the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan).
It was clear that Exeter was almost completely built-out and the infrastructure in roads and transport required for further city centre and commercial growth was urgently required if the continued success known as the “Exeter Growth Point” was to continue. Without a joint plan for infrastructure, the commute into the City would become intolerable and hinder the targeted housebuilding requirements set by the Government for each of the 4 separate councils.
In October 2018 the Government draw up yet another updated version of the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) very much on the lines of the 2012 Policies, but with various tweaks to assist in the over-riding government strategy of encouraging developers to build many more dwellings.
The new 2018 NPPF provided clearer guidance that if an individual Council was unable to provide enough development land for extra dwellings required by the government’s growth targets, neighbouring councils may be allowed to build out extra housing for their partner and other neighbouring authorities.
According to East Devon District Councils Strategic Planning Committees agenda item 12 for discussion on the 29th January 2019:
“Timetable for production of a new East Devon Local Plan”
Within the introduction to the agenda item it states:
“…given changing circumstances and other factors, that a “light touch” review of the currently adopted local plan is unlikely to be a practical option for a new local plan.”
What the changing circumstances and other factors are, is not explained but it is clear from the report it is clearly in relation to GESP.
Because the GESP Strategic Plan policies will over-ride the East Devon Local Plan policies, the report seems to suggests that the “changing circumstances and other factors” relate to the new GESP policies which override the Local Plan, Village Plan and probably most Neighbourhood Plans – affecting a large area of East Devon! So much so that, rather than the GESP plan dovetailing into the 3-year-old approved East Devon Local Plan and 1-year-old Villages Plan with all the years of public consulting, Council debate and literally years of work by the planning team, it will be jettisoned for a brand-new Local Plan to dovetail into the strategies of the GESP plan!
Although the GESP plan has been in preparation for 2 years, no formal discussion or meeting has been held at any Council Chamber at any of the four Councils involved. Meetings have taken place to consider the 700 plus sites throughout the Greater Exeter area submitted for assessment by what is known as the “Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) panel” The Panel is made up of “key stakeholders”, with a recognised interest in the development of land for housing and employment, and housing and economic development sector, including housebuilders, social landlords, local property agents and other related professionals together with local community representatives and other agencies. The membership of these meeting has been confidential and there has there been no publication of their deliberations or recommendations.
To be clear: meetings between two lead councillors from each Authority, plus officers have kept the draft policies and site options totally under lock and key – with none of the meetings been reported or minuted.
However, all is to be revealed AFTER the local council elections in May 2019 – consultation has always been scheduled to begin no earlier than June 2019.
This suggests that the draft policies and site options affecting East Devon will be so radical and so totally at variance to the East Devon Local Plan and Villages Plan that they will all require total re-writing, with a brand-new Local Plan (subsidiary to GESP) and all the costs and uncertainties this will bring.
Why have these Councils been so secretive on the GESP proposed development site considerations for proposed strategies for commercial and housing development for this part of Devon? Could it be that Tory controlled East Devon, Teignbridge, and Mid Devon Councils have elections on May 2nd this year (Labour Exeter elects only one-third of its council this year) and a brand new super-growth plan – superseding their Local Plans – will not be considered much of vote-grabber?
Don’t say you weren’t warned!