Emergency meeting on future of 105,000-home plan is needed, say campaigners

August 07 2019
Emergency meeting on future of 105,000-home plan is needed, say campaigners

CRISIS talks are needed after major plans to build 105,000 homes across the West of England were rejected, campaigners say.

Planning inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee, above, told the local authorities for South Gloucestershire, Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and North Somerset councils to take their Joint Spatial Plan back to the drawing board.

The councils remain confident of finding a way forward but opponents of the plan said it “never should have got this far.”

House builders fear the blueprint, which sets out where 105,000 houses should be built across the West of England by 2036, could potentially be held back for “many years”, and the target for new homes could go up to 116,000 in the meantime.

Pressure group Thornbury Residents Against Poorly Planned Development is calling on South Gloucestershire Council to stage an emergency meeting to consider the “crisis they have created”.

Co-chairman Colin Gardner said in an open letter to council leader Toby Savage: “It is our opinion that there can be no recovery from such a damning conclusion and yet, incredulously, early statements from the councils talk about further research to be done and that the inspectors have not yet heard all of the evidence.

The councils are behaving like the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, whose reaction to his complete dismemberment is that it’s only a scratch and that he should be allowed to fight on.”

In a letter to the four councils, planning inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee revealed “significant concerns” about fundamental aspects of the plan, saying: “We think it only fair to advise you that we currently consider that withdrawal of the JSP from examination may well be the most appropriate way forward.

We envisage that, overall, a very substantial amount of further work on the plan needs to be undertaken.”

Claire Young, the Liberal Democrat leader in South Gloucestershire and councillor for Frampton Cotterell, said those who campaigned against the JSP had been “vindicated”.

Her colleague,Chipping Sodbury & Cotswold Edge councillor Adrian Rush, said: “It never should have got this far. The inspectors wrote to South Gloucestershire and the other councils over a year ago to say that they had serious concerns about how the plan had been put together.I dread to think how much taxpayers’ money has been wasted on this fool’s errand.”

The JSP includes 12 strategic development locations – Thornbury, Charfield, Buckover, Yate, Coalpit Heath, Brislington, North Keynsham, Whitchurch, Nailsea, Backwell, Churchill and Banwell – but the inspectors were not convinced the four councils had considered “reasonable alternatives”. 

Responding to the letter, the authorities said: “We look forward to receiving your more detailed letter in the middle of August, following which the councils are confident we will be able to provide a substantive response to determine the best way forward.

In the meantime, we note that you have not reached the view that any of the individual proposed SDLs could not form a sound part of a plan for the West of England or as allocations in local plans.”

Bristol’s cabinet member for housing, Paul Smith, said he believed that the delay will probably mean the housing target is upped to 116,000, as a resubmitted JSP may need to comply with a new government formula.

The Home Builders Federation said the withdrawal of the plan would lead to “further delays and yet more uncertainty”, potentially for “many years".

In an open letter to the four councils, Campaign to Protect Rural England Avonside chair David Worskett urged them not to “tinker with the deeply flawed, out of date, JSP”.

Instead, he said they should give far greater priority to environmental and climate change considerations, plan houses closer to Bristol, preferably on brownfield sites, be realistic about the provision of vital infrastructure, and recognise the importance of the countryside.

By Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporting Service