Cornwall’s Local Plan moves a step further forward

Posted on: 16th December 2015

Cornwall’s Local Plan moves a step further forward following a vote at Full Council to support changes to go out for public consultation.

At the hearings held earlier this year the Inspector recommended additional work and gave advice about changes to the Plan to make it ‘sound’ before it can be considered for adoption.

Edwina Hannaford, LibDem Cornwall Council cabinet member for planning told Full Council:

“Firstly I must pay tribute to officers who have worked so hard, with great skill and commitment to bring these final amendments before you. It’s been a team effort across the Council. I also thank the Policy Advisory Committee for their work and thank those who took the opportunity to have input at the 4 area meetings and the all member briefing.

I need to be clear this is not a resubmission of the whole plan. What you are considering is the response to the issues the Governments Inspector made in his feedback following the examination in public in May.

The key issues and changes are laid out in pages 2 and 3 of the report.

The Local Plan is at a pivotal stage. We know we need a Plan for greater local control over planning decisions and prove our 5 year land supply that has been the issue with recent costly appeal decisions.

The Inspector’s comments were encouraging. Many plans are rejected out of hand at this stage; ours was not. Although he concluded that the Plan as it stood required some changes to make it sound, we believe the changes before you today now meet the required tests set by Government.

We have been successful on all the legal compliance points and the main issues he raises are principally to do with the overall housing requirement and the affordable housing targets. He also highlighted that the economic policy should better reflect the Council and LEP’s economic strategies.

I want to highlight two key changes. Some members may not like some of the answers but we are responding to planning rules on plan making laid out in the NPPF, Government policy and case law. Kicking back against these without very robust evidence will put the whole Plan at risk. If it fails on one element, it fails completely. If it fails, we will not have a Plan.

The first point I want to highlight is the Objectively Assessed Need. It is the basis for the Plan’s housing requirement. We have re-run demographic projections and completed work that supports our arguments around our economic strategies. We’ve also looked at affordable housing delivery, a key test of soundness.

Our updated Objectively Assessed Need indicates a need to increase the Plan’s housing requirement to 52,500 but a lot of this is to meet the Inspector’s much publicised advice to increase the requirement by 7% in order to mitigate for the loss of stock to 2nd homes. This increase is not intended to provide more 2nd homes. Controls over 2nd homes was a key ask in the Case for Cornwall. As yet we have not been able to persuade the Government that these controls are essential for Cornwall.

This is not the only headline figure. A key factor in the Objectively Assessed Need is the link to economic growth. Housing needs to be related to and support economy growth. The plan also outlines planning for 38,000 full time jobs, 704,000 sqm of employment floor-space and the same again in office space and industrial premises.

Secondly he gives clear advice about changes needed for a more realistic set of affordable housing targets. He did commend our ambition and our good track record, but while we can all refer to individual developments that are different to those now proposed in the Plan, we have to benchmark against a wider Cornwall-wide Assessment. Pan Cornwall, the percentage of affordable homes we actually deliver is 34%. The percentages proposed today compare favourably when benchmarked against other SW authorities. It should be noted that the proposed percentages do NOT include exception sites which retain the 100% starting point with a minimum of 50%.

In addition, we have to conclude on the distribution of the housing requirement and to provide certainty to the needs of individual areas or places. This has to drive economic growth but also respect protected landscapes like the AONB and WHS.

I want to be very clear, if we do not get a Plan in place our planning decisions will be dealt with on National Policy alone or dealt with at Appeal. If the Governments Inspector cannot see that the changes will make the Plan ‘Sound’ he will not allow it to proceed. No matter how much some disagree with the process, not having a plan will have significantly more grave consequences, kicking back now will leave us in a position of uncertainty for longer.

Of course we will continue to lobby for our devolved planning ask. We have already made representation to the Housing and Planning Bill Select Committee on the negative impacts of the changes for Cornwall.

An adopted plan will provide certainty and stability for communities undertaking neighbourhood plans, help partners plan for future infrastructure investment, resist inappropriate development and avoid costly appeals.

The Inspector was very clear if we make these changes that this would make the policies ‘sound’.

We believe we are presenting changes based on robust evidence that support a raft of positive policies that are right for Cornwall. These include supporting small-scale infill development, enhanced space standards, self-build, elder accommodation and protection for our precious natural and historic environment.

I believe we have the best plan for Cornwall working within the framework, guidance and policy provided by Government and I therefore recommend the proposals as laid out on paper on the desk before you.”

Inspector’s headline recommendations were to:

  • re run the housing model and update the housing target using the Government’s housing projections published this year.
  • increase the Plan’s housing target to reflect the pressure from existing second and holiday homes and consider if further increase is needed to meet affordable housing needs.
  • be clearer about how the Plan’s policies support the economic strategies and employment land, particularly how much and where.
  • adjust Affordable Housing targets to a more achievable level .
    engage better with Gypsy and Traveller communities to get better evidence of their needs.

As a result of these recommendations, the key changes agreed by full Council which will now go out for public consultation are:

  • to increase the overall housing target to 52,500 (from 47,500) following a reassessment of the economic strategy, updated demographic projections and how the Plan supports the needs of particular groups;
  • distribution of this new target to meet need across Cornwall adjusting this up and/or down to reflect local circumstances – particularly economic objectives, the need for affordable housing and what can realistically be delivered;
  • revise how many affordable houses that can be expected based on what is viable;
  • new targets for sites to meet the needs of Gypsy and Travelling communities

Existing permissions and houses that have been built between 2010 and now will count against the headline figure. This means that nearly 11,500 of the proposed 52,500 homes required have already been built and over 20,000 more have planning permission . This means the plan needs to allow for 21,000 over the next 15 years. At present on average 33% of all homes built are affordable homes.

For more details on houses built since 2010 (when the plan started), those with planning consent and the balance needed before 2030, visit Cornwall Local Plan Housing Distribution