Inspector calls for hearing to probe Essex plan's compliance with duty

An inspector has called for a meeting to be held into an Essex local plan's compliance with the duty to co-operate (DtC), after finding that the plan's housing target fails to meet objectively-assessed need.

David Smith, who is examining Castle Point Borough Council’s new local plan, has called for a hearing session to deal solely with the DtC issues. In a letter to the council, Smith said he had "concerns about whether the duty has been met".

The letter was issued last month following the submission of the plan to the inspector earlier this year.

The plan includes provision for just over 2,000 homes in the period to 2031, but acknowledges that there is a need for 8,000 homes per annum over the same period.

The plan explains that a Green Belt review has taken place, "to ensure that the strategic functions of the Green Belt have been retained whilst identifying additional sites for development".

"This approach has enabled the identification of sites in the Green Belt with capacity in the region of 260 homes to be identified. It is therefore realistic to deliver a target of 107 homes per annum - 2140 homes in total for the period 2011 to 2031," it says. "It is recognised that this does not represent objectively assessed need, but reflects the capacity of the borough to accommodate growth."

A previous draft of the plan proposed a housing requirement of 4,000 homes, but this was reduced in the latest version of the document.

The inspector has asked for further information on how the council has explored options for providing for unmet need. "In the light of the strategy proposed for Castle Point, what specific steps have been taken or mechanisms are in place to distribute unmet housing need elsewhere in the Housing Market Area or beyond?" Smith asks.

Smith has also asked what the council’s rationale was for reducing the housing requirement between the two versions of the plans.

The council’s consultation statement on the plan states that "work is already underway" with neighbouring authorities on addressing unmet housing need, but says different timescales for local plan preparation mean that "it is not yet possible to demonstrate a final agreed position".

"Nonetheless it is not considered that this represents a robust reason to delay the submission of the new local plan given the government’s exhortation to make progress on local plans," it states.

The council’s deadline for responding to the inspector’s questions is 14th October.

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