How we did it: Aligning plans to manage homes growth

Two councils in the East of England dovetailed local plans to manage a strong growth agenda, Colin Marrs reports.

City and district plan coordinators: Greater Cambridge Shared Planning strategy and economy manager Sara Saunders, planning policy manager Caroline Hunt and joint director of planning and economic development Stephen Kelly
City and district plan coordinators: Greater Cambridge Shared Planning strategy and economy manager Sara Saunders, planning policy manager Caroline Hunt and joint director of planning and economic development Stephen Kelly

PROJECT Joint examination of local plans for Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council

ORGANISATIONS INVOLVED Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council, Planning Inspectorate

In recent weeks, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridge City Council have voted to adopt local plans originally submitted the best part of five years ago. Examination of the plans was unusual because it was conducted jointly. The two authorities worked closely together on preparing their plans and providing evidence required by the two planning inspectors in charge of the examination.

The decision in 2011 to coordinate the preparation and submission of the two councils’ plans followed a history of close joint working. This included the creation in 2007 of a joint development control committee to consider applications on schemes proposed for large sites on the outskirts of Cambridge which straddled the boundary between the two authorities.

Caroline Hunt is planning policy manager at the newly-formed joint planning service for the two councils, Greater Cambridge Shared Planning, and was formerly at South Cambridgeshire. "At the time we started preparation of the plan, on the back of the localism agenda, there was not so much focus on preparing joint local plans," she says. "However, we felt that working together on separate local plans made sense to consider how the strong growth of the city could be managed across the area."

The councils’ decision to work together on plan preparation led to a number of benefits, according to Hunt. Costs on evidence preparation were saved, with consultants and internal staff working on joint documents addressing issues including employment, the green belt, infrastructure and viability. "Where there were common issues on which we were able to jointly gather evidence, we did, while we each worked on issues affecting our own areas separately," she says.

One of the most important ways in which joint working helped was in the phasing assumptions for the thousands of new homes planned for the sites on the edge of the city, Hunt says. To deal with the fact that the initial years of the plan would see more development in the city before building started to move outwards into South Cambridgeshire, a joint housing trajectory was proposed, Hunt says.

"It works coherently across the piece, with less provision in the early period in South Cambridgeshire," she says. "The inspector at the examination endorsed this approach and recognised it was appropriate." The phased approach was also necessary to reflect the fact that a number of the plan’s strategic sites are allocated as new settlements, which have a longer lead-in time.

Politically, the joint plan working could have been derailed by a number of changes, with Labour taking control of Cambridge in 2014 and the Liberal Democrats seizing South Cambridgeshire this year.

Despite some disagreements over the fine detail in the plans, Kevin Blencowe, executive councillor for planning, policy and transport at the city council, says: "In the main there was a cross-party and cross-authority view that the proposal for how to allocate jobs and homes was a sensible one."


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