Inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee wrote to the four West of England planning authorities this week to elaborate on an earlier letter sent last month in which they advised that the joint spatial plan (JSP) should be withdrawn from examination.
Following receipt of the inspectors’ August letter, the planning authorities wrote back to advise they were "confident we will be able to provide a substantive response to determine the best way forward". They added: "We note that you have not reached the view that any of the individual proposed SDLs (strategic development locations) could not form a sound part of a plan for the West of England."
Writing again this week, the inspectors said: "We have not definitively reached the view that any of the individual SDLs proposed in the JSP could not, in principle, form a sound part of a plan for the West of England or for any of the individual local authority areas.
However, they added: "We conclude that robust evidence has not been provided to demonstrate that the 12 SDLs proposed in the plan have been selected against reasonable alternatives on a robust, consistent and objective basis. Consequently, given that the SDLs are an integral part of the plan’s spatial strategy, we cannot conclude that the spatial strategy is itself sound."
The inspectors said the authorities’ efforts to justify the SDLs included within the plan had not been successful. In light of this, the inspectors said any further work "would be very unlikely to persuade us that the SDLs, and thus the spatial strategy overall, were selected on a robust, consistent and objective basis".
Concluding that "an enormous amount of work" would be needed for the plan to be capable of being found sound, the inspectors added: "We believe that the councils need to return to the plan preparation process and, with open minds, reconsider many fundamental elements of the JSP … We remain of the view that withdrawal of the plan from examination is likely to be the most appropriate option."
Responding to the letter, the West of England authorities advised the inspectors: "We are presently reviewing the letter to determine the best way forward. We will provide you with a considered response in due course."
Simon Prescott, Bristol-based partner at Barton Willmore, said: "This is one of the most damning inspectors’ reports I have read, but it does set out in some detail the changes that would be necessary to achieve a sound plan. Personally, I think there is a way to identify the main modifications which would ultimately result in a sound joint spatial plan.
"Clearly, the inspectors are looking to have this plan withdrawn, and if ultimately that is what is necessary, we must not lose all of the experience gained through the current examination. The worst case would be to find ourselves in exactly the same position in a few years’ time."
The West of England plan proposes 105,500 homes in the sub-region up to 2036.
A Planning feature looking at the progress of England's five joint strategic plans, including the West of England, can be found here.