How We Did It - Beating obstacles to core strategy adoption

Completing a planning framework presented a series of challenges for one Yorkshire council.

Selby's planning policy team: Helen Gregory, Jessica Dewar, Ryan King, Diane Wilson and Andy McMillan
Selby's planning policy team: Helen Gregory, Jessica Dewar, Ryan King, Diane Wilson and Andy McMillan

Project Selby Core Stategy

Organisations involved Selby District Council

After three adjournments of its examination in public (EIP) and a string of other procedural challenges, Selby District Council adopted its core strategy for the period up to 2027 last month. Its experience highlights many of the uncertainties created by reforms introduced during the course of plan preparation.

Work on replacing the Selby District Local Plan began soon after its adoption in 2005. But the real challenges began once the core strategy was submitted for examination in May 2011. "The council, the inspector and all participants had a range of major issues to deal with during the examination," says planning policy team leader Helen Gregory. "The timing of changes in the planning system had an impact on plan timescales and issues, as well as bringing internal pressures for a small local authority."

The draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) appeared a week after a pre-hearing meeting in July 2011.The first EiP sessions began two months later. The Localism Act was published a week after the first EIP adjournment, in November 2011. The final NPPF came out a week before the EiP resumed in April 2012.

The Yorkshire and Humber regional strategy, on which the draft core strategy's housebuilding figures were based, was revoked a week before the fourth and final EIP session in 2013. "Then, just as the end was in sight and the inspector was preparing his draft report, new interim population projections this February brought a request for further evidence from the council," says Gregory.

Each adjournment of the EiP was followed by a period of further technical work and consultation on changes to the strategy. Planning policy officer Andy McMillan suggests there should be a cut-off for emerging issues to be raised - preferably before an EiP starts.

The plan has been comprehensively tested for consistency with the NPPF, particularly in terms of the scale of housing development and whether they can be delivered. Availability of sites in Tadcaster, which is surrounded by green belt, proved particularly contentious. In response, the council refined its strategy to overcome land supply problems at Tadcaster and provide strategic guidance on any green belt reviews judged necessary in site allocation plans.

During the September 2011 EiP sessions, the inspector voiced concern that Selby's housebuilding figure of 440 homes a year was insufficiently robust, as it was based on projections dating from 2004. The council commissioned consultants Arup to review evidence on population growth, household formation, migration, the housing market, housing completions, land availability and the economy. The housebuilding target was increased only modestly, to 450 homes a year.

The council also faced accusations that it had not met the duty to cooperate spelled out in section 110 of the Localism Act. In April 2012, the inspector ruled that because the core strategy had been submitted before this provision came into force, the duty did not legally apply to the original draft nor the subsequent modifications. Instead, the council published a statement showing how it had met the NPPF's requirement to co-operate with neighbouring councils. "We have a close working relationship with the surrounding districts," says McMillan.

The council did not budget for such a protracted process. McMillan says this meant work on other documents to go alongside the core strategy had to be put back - in one case by two years. In summer 2011, a restructuring led to all staff being transferred to an arms-length agency. The planning policy team was reduced from five to four staff and they were given a wider corporate remit.

Selby's policy team is now working on a sites and policies local plan, due to go out for public comment in the new year, and is pressing ahead with an affordable housing supplementary planning document. "It's been very challenging, but now the district has a sound and up-to-date plan upon which to develop site allocations and development management policies," says Gregory.

Second Opinion

Richard Bate, Partner Green Balance

What can local planning teams learn from Selby's experience?

A: Life for planners is unfair. Frontloading of consultation to enable the preparation of agreed plans has of course failed. Selby was lucky to miss out on disputes over the duty to co-operate. Councils should plan for foreseeable events such as legislative changes.

Q: How can councils budget for plan preparation?

A: Selby's experience shows that plan preparation has an unfortunate tendency to be bounced by events. Councils should at least double the budgets they think they ought to need.

Q: Should opportunities to raise new issues be curtailed once an examination has started?

A: No There is no point in producing a plan which is obviously out-of-date if something significant has happened affecting the area. It is important to prepare a robust plan that is less likely to be thrown off course by unexpected stimuli. In particular, plans looking 15 to 20 years ahead should not be heavily dependent on the latest household projections, which will probably change significantly.

Q: Will plan preparation be more straightforward now?

A: Dream on. Many of the reforms introduced by successive governments have not delivered the intended benefits, often because they were driven by political imperatives and based on inadequate evidence. Watch out for further "improvements" to unpick the problems, no doubt creating more difficulties.

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