Council blasted for stalling work on joint plan

Work on a joint development plan for South Worcestershire has come to an abrupt halt after Malvern Hills councillors voted to go back to the drawing board on housing options.

Malvern Hills district councillors voted on Tuesday night to seek an alternative approach to the South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP), despite a council report that said that the emerging plan was "deliverable and sound".

Instead they opted for further investigation of alternative housing distribution, following a last minute report submitted by a council task group.

The local planning authority's decision to stall the SWDP has angered its partners Wychavon District and Worcester City Councils.

Wychavon District Council leader Paul Middlebrough slammed the move as "nothing short of reckless" and said his authority will now "go it alone" and draw up its own local plan.

Worcester City Council said it will consider the implications of Malvern’s decision and "assess all of the options available to us".

Malvern Hills Council's decision comes just weeks before the draft plan was due to be formally agreed by the three councils and after five years of joint working.

Councillors voted in favour of the cross-party task group’s proposals which included plans to reduce housing allocations in two urban extensions.

The group, set up to review issues on concern regarding the emerging plan, proposed to reduce an urban extension of 700 homes at Newland in Malvern to 250 and disperse the remaining housing to other sites.

The task group also called for an urban extension of 2,450 homes at Broomhall, south of Worcester, to be cut to 1,200, with up to 500 homes allocated at Redhill and 800 in the Norton/ Littleworth area.

Council leader David Hughes had warned members that the group’s recommendations would represent significant changes to the SWDP and would need further evidence and consultation, which could cause a delay of at least eight to ten months.

Hughes also said that if the plan is not submitted by next March then there is a real risk of developers taking advantage of the council's absence of a five-year housing land supply, leading to speculative and unplanned development.

The council’s head of planning, economy and housing Gary Williams also warned that the task group’s report was not based on robust evidence and a breakdown of the joint plan making arrangements could lead to the district having to accommodate higher levels of housing than set out in the SWDP.

Under the joint plan, Worcester and Wychavon had agreed to take on housing growth from Malvern Hills of an additional 1,300 homes and 1,200 homes respectively, according to a report to the council by Hughes.

Wychavon District Council said it will seek to remain on track with the current timetable to submit its new plan to the Planning Inspectorate in early 2013. Middlebrough said: "We remain in a strong position to move forward our own plan. This will mean no change for our communities in Wychavon and we remain committed to delivering a plan so that we have clear direction and do not fall foul of the appeals process or unwanted development."

Worcester City Council leader Simon Geraghty said: "I am personally very disappointed that Malvern members have refused to listen to their own leadership team, professional officers and legal advice. This result is challenging for south Worcestershire, and there is now a real risk of unplanned and uncoordinated development without the required infrastructure being provided.

"We will continue to work closely with Wychavon."

Malvern Hills District Council said it did not have a statement on the matter at present.

The situation in Malvern comes after a similar crisis over the joint plan for Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury last month, although in that case it was narrowly averted.

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