EDDC is to be given more time to provide additional evidence as to the volume of housing that is right for the district looking ahead over the next two decades.
That’s the key message from a preliminary letter to the council from a planning inspector examining East Devon’s draft Local Plan.
The council’s efforts to protect East Devon’s unique environment will continue – but against a background of acknowledging the national and regional pressures for new homes.
Members of the Planning Policy Team will now produce an action plan showing the extra work it intends to do and the timing of each stage that will take these tasks through to completion.
Aware that the council has for some months been working on a joint exercise to look at housing need into the future, Planning Inspector Anthony Thickett says he wants to see the results of that exercise to help him decide if EDDC has forecast the right level of housing.
Until that data is available, and until several other important matters are resolved, he cannot sign off the plan or – to use the technical term – find it sound.
In August 2013, around the time that East Devon’s draft Local Plan was first submitted to the Inspector, the council agreed to work with Devon County Council, Exeter City Council, Mid Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council on a Strategic Housing Marketing Assessment (SHMA).
Accurate It is the outcome of this exercise – expected in the next few months – that the inspector feels will provide more accurate data on which to set a longer term housing target for East Devon.
In a letter to the council’s planning policy team, to be released at 5pm on Thursday 3 April, Inspector Anthony Thickett explains that the information he collected in a three-week enquiry at the beginning of the year did not fully cover all the bases.
He cannot therefore find the current version of the Local Plan to be ‘sound’. In addition to the SHMA work, he also wants EDDC to make more progress than it has done so far in assessing the need for gypsy and traveller sites – and, if there is a demonstrable need, to identify locations where such sites could be created.
So far as housing volume is concerned, there needs to be a clear picture as to how many homes are to be built on land in East Devon for the benefit of the district and how many may be needed to satisfy demand in Exeter – which has a dire shortage of housing land. Within East Devon, the inspector also wants more work to be done allocating volumes of housing around the district to get the distribution right.
Reacting to the news, Paul Diviani, Leader of EDDC, said: “This is pretty much what we expected. It is quite common for an inspector to ask for more information before finding a local plan to be sound. Neighbouring councils in Teignbridge, West Dorset and South Somerset have all had similar delays for similar reasons.
“This is such a complex subject that it is difficult to get all the boxes ticked in one go. After spending so long refining our plans and consulting on them, at some point you have to jump in and say: ‘OK – let’s see how close we are to what the Government wants to see’.
Moving target “This is especially so when there is a moving target. Our original plan was based on the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS), which the Coalition has since scrapped. Now the plan has to conform to the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and, just within the past few weeks, that framework’s set of guidelines (NPPG).
“In the circumstances I am relaxed about the extra work we have to do. We will now put together an action plan showing what we will be doing and when. We hope to go back to the inspector in the autumn with the extra information he needs.
“In the meantime, our planning procedures will carry on as they have done up to now, with proposals looked at on merit and tested for sustainability, as well as taking into account the issue of land supply.
“One of the important things to remember is that in planning terms East Devon is not an island – and the communities within it cannot be taken in isolation either. We are all a part of the Exeter sub-region and as such the future shape of our district is closely coupled with the needs of our neighbours”.