Deputy leader slams inspectors for lengthy Cambridgeshire local plans examination

A deputy council leader has criticised two planning inspectors after a pair of Cambridgeshire local plans took four and a half years to be examined, saying the lengthy process had allowed the 'wrong type of development' to be approved.

Cambridge: local plan passes examination
Cambridge: local plan passes examination

Cambridge City Council and neigbouring South Cambridgeshire District Council's local plans, which were examined together, propose a combined housing target of 23,000 new homes and forecast 43,000 new jobs between 2011 and 2031. 

Both plans were submitted for examination in March 2014. Inspectors Laura Graham and Alan Wood, in their final reports published yesterday, said the plans would be sound if the adopted a number of main modifications.

Aidan Van de Weyer, South Cambridgeshire District Council's deputy leader and lead cabinet member for strategic planning and transport, said: "We are really disappointed it has taken so long for the government inspectors to complete their review as we understand this was one of the longest examinations in the country. 

"This is simply too long by the inspectors and has meant the wrong type of development, in the wrong locations, has been approved in many of our villages."

In response, a Planning Inspectorate spokesman said: "We understand the councils’ disappointment over the time it has taken to complete the examination of their local plan.

"Inspectors appointed to examine local plans are required to assess whether the plan is sound and, if not, to work with the council to put it right, usually through making changes to the plan during the examination.

"It is very unusual for a local plan examination to take this long but local plans deal with complex and contentious planning issues, including those relating to housing need and the supply of housing land. 

"In this case, each council carried out consultation on two sets of proposed changes to their plans during the examination."

Cambridge City Council's local plan proposes 14,000 new homes and forecasts 22,100 new jobs between 2011 and 2031. 

Meanwhile, South Cambridgeshire District Council's local plan proposes 19,337 new homes and forecasts 22,000 new jobs over the same period.

According to the councils, key housing sites allocated in the two plans include:

  • An expansion of the new settlement of Northstowe by about 10,000 homes
  • A new town north of Waterbeach with about 8,000-9,000 homes
  • A new village at Bourn Airfield with about 3,500 homes
  • A western expansion to the new settlement of Cambourne – planning permission was granted in January 2017 for 2,350 homes
  • 1,200 new homes on land north of Cherry Hinton and west of Teversham 
  • About 900 homes in the "better served" South Cambridgeshire villages
  • An extension to Cambridge Biomedical Campus to support the growth of this cluster
  • An extension to the Peterhouse Technology Park in Cambridge 

The South Cambridgeshire plan proposes releasing five sites from the green belt, while the Cambridge City plan allocates four green belt sites. 

In both reports, inspectors concluded that there was no justification for allocating additional sites for development in the green belt.

According to the Cambridge City plan report: "Significant tracts of land have been taken out of the green belt on the edge of Cambridge through previous rounds of plan making and these sites are carried forward into this plan and still have significant remaining development capacity."

The main modifications include a commitment by both councils to carry out an early review of their plans through the preparation of a joint local plan starting next year, which they had already promised as part of the Greater Cambridge City Deal agreement.

The councils aim to submit the joint local plan for examination by the end of the summer 2022. 

The changes, which were proposed by the council and consulted on in earlier this year, also include: providing extra clarity over the calculation of a five year housing land supply; and allocating extra land for housing at the Cambridge East Strategic Site.

Kevin Blencowe, Cambridge City Council’s executive member for planning policy and transport, said: "The local plan process has been complex and unusually lengthy, but we have now reached an important milestone."

Blencowe said the plan included policies to secure social housing and to ensure the internal design of housing "provides decent liveable spaces". 

Other key policies included, he said: provision of student and visitor accommodation, protection and provision of new open spaces and community facilities, and protection of pubs. 

The South Cambridgeshire Local Plan will be presented for adoption at a full council meeting on Thursday 27 September.

The Cambridge Local Plan will be presented for adoption at a full council meeting on Thursday 18 October.

The inspectors’ report for South Cambridgeshire can be found here and the report for Cambridge City here.

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