How pledges to carry out early reviews are aiding plan progress

An inspector's decision to endorse a joint plan covering three Gloucestershire districts with heavy caveats furthers a trend of pragmatic decisions designed to help get plans in place, according to experts.

Gloucester: inspector endorses joint plan
Gloucester: inspector endorses joint plan

At the end of last month, inspector Elizabeth Ord passed the Gloucestershire Joint Core Strategy (JCS) as sound despite there being a significant shortfall in allocated sites. Experts say Ord’s decision to pass the joint plan covering Gloucester, Tewkesbury and Cheltenham, with a requirement for an immediate review of housing supply and a retail policy, is the latest in a series of examination reports in which inspectors are opting to find plans sound subject to early reviews, rather than forcing councils back to the drawing board.

Getting a plan in place in this area has been a long time coming. Gloucester has one of the oldest plans in the country, dating from 1983, while Tewkesbury and Cheltenham both have plans dating from 2006. Because both Gloucester and Cheltenham have constrained boundaries that mean natural growth will spill into Tewkesbury, the three councils have been working towards a joint plan since before the abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies in 2010. The draft JCS was submitted in November 2014, with the subsequent examination in public starting in May 2015 and not finishing until July this year, more than two years later.

In June 2016 Ord gave an interim judgement that the JCS authorities should be planning to build 35,175 homes in the area by 2013, up from the 31,830 proposed by the councils. The JCS later suffered a setback due to the withdrawal of a major MoD site which had been scheduled to add 2,150 homes over the period, contributing to the ultimate shortfall of 3,351 homes.

In last month’s report, Ord said the examination had "proved to be complex and controversial and has attracted considerable public participation and suggestions for amendments throughout". However, with each of the three councils being able to currently demonstrate a five-year land supply, Ord concluded the plan was sound, subject to immediate reviews of housing supply in Gloucester and Tewkesbury, to "allow consideration of options that become available both within and outside the JCS area".

Rosie Dinnen, associate director at Bristol based consultancy Tetlow King, welcomed Ord’s decision, but said: "It’s taken a long time to get here."

Ord’s ruling follows similar such decisions in Mid Sussex, Aylesbury Vale, Dacorum and most recently Luton, which this week adopted its plan, committing to commencing a review "no later than the end of 2019". Charlie Collins, director of planning at property firm Savills’ Guildford office said: "It’s happening all the time at the moment. There’s not many plans being found unsound, inspectors are taking the view lets patch it up if we can."

Richard Pestell, director of planning at consultancy Peter Brett Associates, said it was an example of the difficulties created by the current system in which councils go into examinations without knowing what the final housing requirement is going to be. "It’s hard to manage bringing new sites in at short notice. It takes a lot of time. This is an example of why the system needs dramatic change," he said.

Nick Matthews, planning director in Savills’ Bristol office, said recent government proposals to introduce a standard methodology for assessing housing need may prevent such issues arising in future. "It’s one more example of why there’s such an urgent need for the standard methodology to come in to play," he said.

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