Councils around Bristol propose new sub-regional plan

The three councils that make up the West of England Combined Authority are intending to collaborate on drawing up a high-level spatial strategy following the failure earlier this year of the region’s joint spatial plan.

Bristol: new sub-regional plan in the pipeline
Bristol: new sub-regional plan in the pipeline

According to cabinet papers for a forthcoming meeting of one of the three, South Gloucestershire Council, it is to work with the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) and its other constituent authorities, Bristol and Bath & North East Somerset, on the scope of a joint spatial development strategy (SDS).

Meanwhile North Somerset Council, which was originally part of the joint spatial plan (JSP) but is not a member of WECA, has said it will simply prepare its own local plan in the normal way, working under the duty to co-operate.

An SDS is a different approach from the previously proposed joint plan, which would have replaced individual local plans in each of the constituent authorities. Instead, SDSs cover high-level strategic policies, with more detailed planning policies being dealt with by individual local plans prepared by the local authorities which are involved.

The move follows the four JSP councils writing to the plan inspectors on April 7 to confirm that they were withdrawing the JSP from examination. Last September a series of letters by the inspectors stated that, in effect, the plan as submitted was considered irretrievably unsound.

Reflecting the concerns raised by inspectors that led to the withdrawn of the JSP, the South Gloucestershire cabinet papers said of the proposed SDS that: “It will be important that this process is evidence-led, and undertaken in an open-minded way, that doesn’t start with the answer, and ensuring that we test the reasonable alternatives against the evidence.”

The prospect of collaborating on an SDS was raised by the inspectors in the letters detailing their concerns. However it has not been clear until now whether or not there was appetite in the region for collaborating over a new strategy following the failure of the original plan. Consultant Jeff Richards, head of planning for the South West at consultancy Turley, had told Planning in January that there was “JSP fatigue” in the region.

The South Gloucestershire cabinet papers said a detailed report setting out the outcome of scoping work “is intended to be presented to the WECA Committee for decision at its meeting in June”, scheduled for June 19.

However, there has been no announcement so far by WECA mayor Tim Bowles that the authority is considering overseeing the creation of an SDS.

The papers said the idea was that any SDS will cover: strategic priorities such as clean and inclusive growth; an “objectives-focussed” spatial vision; a spatial strategy setting out the broad pattern and scale of development; housing and jobs requirements for the individual authorities; and other thematic policies such as affordable housing.

The cabinet papers also recommend firing the starting gun on the creation of a new local plan for South Gloucestershire, targeting submission for inspection during 2023. The papers envisaged an initial consultation on the plan this year, with “phase 2” consultation including potential site allocations in 2021, in advance of publication of a full draft plan in 2022.

The report said the timetable envisaged balanced the need to get an up-to-date development plan in place with the difficulties created by the impact of Covid-19.

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