To receive the attached presentation.
Members received a presentation on the process involved in updating the District’s Local Plan. The Principal Policy Officer (PPO) advised that the first formal stage of the process involved gathering evidence and the preparation of a draft Local Plan for public consultation. This would be carried out in line with the Council’s Statement of Community Involvement (SCI) which set out who would be consulted and how. Representations and comments received during consultation would then inform the second stage of the process which involved preparing a version of the Plan for submission to the Secretary of State for final examination before its adoption by the Council. It was anticipated that the draft Plan would be finalised in December, presented to Cabinet and full Council in January 2020 and then published for a consultation period of eight weeks.
The PPO advised that the structure and content of the draft Plan was currently being considered, but it would include a number of strategic policies that set out an overall strategy for the pattern, scale and quality of development in the District. It would also include a number of non-strategic policies dealing with issues such as transport and community facilities. The other major element of the Plan would be the allocation of sites for housing, employment, self-build, etc. The allocation would include existing sites plus new ones put forward by the public or identified by Officers.
In response to Councillor J S Back, the PPO confirmed that settlement confines would be reviewed as part of the update. Councillor B Gardner expressed concern that the process was being carried out in private without Member input or scrutiny. In response, the Head of Regeneration and Development clarified that the Leadership Forum did not have decision-making powers but was a discussion forum that helped Officers evolve options and ideas. Decision-making associated with the Local Plan process rested with the Portfolio Holder, supported by recommendations made by the PAG. The PPO added that Officers were in the process of surveying potential sites to establish whether they were suitable. Once completed, they would report their conclusions and make recommendations to the PAG.
Councillor Gardner maintained that there had been less Member input during this review. Councillor N S Kenton agreed that there had previously been more Member input, with allocations having been changed as a result of Member and community contributions. He was concerned that the proposed consultation timetable would not allow meaningful Member and community input. He was of the view that many of the Council’s Planning policies hindered the ongoing sustainability of communities as they largely prohibited the building of houses in rural areas whereas he believed that such housing would help to support the survival of local shops and pubs. In summary, he thought that there was a need to examine how and why sites were being allocated.
In response to Councillor M J Ovenden, the Head of Regeneration and Development advised that sites in the existing Local Plan would be reconsidered and only rolled forward if considered appropriate. Essentially, all sites would be considered, including those refused previously, existing allocations and ‘opportunistic’ sites. The PPO reported that the process of assessing viability was now much more stringent, as was the assessment of sites to establish that they were deliverable after infrastructure costs, etc were taken into account. It was likely that the revised Local Plan would be ready for adoption in mid to late 2021.
Mr Pat Sherratt stated that the Dover Society was very much in favour of converting flats above shops into residential properties. However, the Council had not adopted the 2006 Flat Conversion Guidelines which raised concerns that flat conversions in the District were not being done to a high standard. The Head of Regeneration and Development clarified that the Government had prescribed that national optimal housing standards could only be adopted by incorporating them into the Local Plan process. The Council therefore had no choice in the matter.
Councillor Kenton raised concerns that sites were being assessed against existing policies when those policies might be dropped or fundamentally changed as a result of the review. He questioned whether these sites were likely to meet future policies. In his view, this illustrated the need to get the public and Members involved in the process at an early stage. The PPO advised that the PAG would become involved once Officers had carried out their initial assessment and visited the proposed sites. These assessments would be undertaken in accordance with national guidelines and it was important to adhere to the prescribed methodology. It was anticipated that there would be five or six months within which to engage with Members. Consultation with the public would follow a set framework, in accordance with the SCI.
Councillor Back commented that many Members knew of potential sites in their wards. It therefore made sense to consult them early in the process as this would avoid the need to make changes to allocations later on. The Head of Regeneration and Development reminded Members that the timetable had limited flexibility. He clarified that sites were not being ruled out because of existing policies. He had no recollection of visiting sites with Members during the last Local Plan review, but recalled that sites, once identified and assessed by Officers, were considered at meetings using Google Earth.
The PPO clarified that Neighbourhood Plans were standalone documents that would be incorporated into the Local Plan. Individual Neighbourhood Plans would contain the relevant policies and site allocations.
It was agreed that further information was needed on how Officers proposed to engage Members in the review process, particularly in relation to site allocations.