Regulation 19 consultations to start in March 2021 instead of August 2020
In a recommendation document from the Leader of the Planning and Transportation portfolio, which we expect to be signed off by the Council’s Leader on June 2, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) has proposed a six-month extension to the planned timescale of its Local Plan process. It has cited the high volume of responses to the recent consultation period (Regulation 18) and the impacts of coronavirus restrictions as two key reasons for the extension.
In the revised timeline, the next round of consultation will now take place during March and April 2021 (previously August-September 2020). The updated schedule will see the plan due to be submitted for inspection in July 2021, and the Inspectors report due in April 2022 with the adoption of the final plan set for June 2022.
While we do feel for those individuals likely to be directly affected by the plans, and whose lives are now on hold for a further six months, elements of the council’s statement around what they need to do in the additional time, are encouraging.
The announcement from TWBC also recognises the need to reflect the results of the Government’s White Paper on modernising the planning system. This is yet to be published, but a consultation document, ‘Planning for the Future’, released by Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick, in March of this year, stated that the Government will ‘back brownfield, encouraging greater building in urban areas. We will introduce new tools to support communities to densify and make best use of their underutilised brownfield land’. This is something Save Capel has been campaigning for through work undertaken to map the significant stock of brownfield land available in the borough.
The consultation document also suggests there will be a revised method used by the council to calculate their housing requirements based on a review of the formula for calculating Local Housing Need which will form part of the Government white paper. This formula is expected to encourage greater focus on building within and near to urban areas.
We have been campaigning for a change in the figures used to calculate the housing need. The Office of National Statistics’ projections for future housing needs published in 2016 were significantly lower than the 2014 figures on which the calculation has to be based. There is no direct suggestion that this will be included in the revisions, but if the more recent figures were used then the requirements to build in the Tunbridge Wells borough would be significantly lower – to the extent that the developments planned for the parish of Capel could be removed entirely while still meeting required levels.
The ‘Planning for the Future’ document further stated that the Government would ‘Review our policy for building in areas at flood risk… we will seek to ensure that communities across the country know that future development will be safe from floods. We will assess whether current protections in the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework) are enough and consider options for further reform.
Finally, the council’s statement also recognises the need to consider the short-, medium- and longer-term implications of the coronavirus outbreak. It is too early to say precisely what these will be, but there will be an effect of the demand for and the types of commercial and residential properties required by the area. Plus the announcement recognises the need to reflect residents’ quality of life. We hope this will consider the significant importance our green spaces have played in the lives of people across the Parish as they deal with the challenges of being locked down.
While we want to get to the end of this planning process, for the benefit of all the people in the area who are worried about how their lives will be affected, we cautiously welcome the announcement for its potential to allow a reframing of the drivers of the Local Plan.
And we hope that Tunbridge Wells Borough Council will now recognise that there is no longer any need to destroy hundreds of acres of green belt land and that it is simply no longer justifiable.
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