BREAKING NEWS: Stroud draft local plan should be withdrawn say government officials
By Laura Enfield | 30th August 2023
Stroud District Council has been dealt a massive blow after Government officials said its draft local plan should be withdrawn.
News that the document has stumbled at its final hurdle- an examination in public- has been met by by council bosses with "surprise" and "concern".
Independent Planning Inspectors, appointed by the Government to scrutinise the plan, have raised serious doubts about the document, which maps out development in the district for the next 20 years.
They held hearings earlier in the summer to help judge whether the plan was 'sound' and 'legally compliant'. They have now advised the examination should be stopped and suggested the process may need to step back "several stages" in order to be made fit for purpose.
However, council bosses have said they do not think this is "appropriate" and have instead requested a six month pause which they said is enough time to deal with the issues raised.
Inspectors' concerns were revealed publicly in a letter from August 4 published on the council's website yesterday (August 29).
They include doubts that necessary improvements to increase the capacity of the M5 at J12 and J14 to support new developments could not be funded and delivered during the plan period.
The letter said: "We therefore cannot conclude that there is a reasonable prospect that the relevant site allocations will be delivered and, therefore, that the spatial strategy as a whole is sound."
They also raised concerns about the viability of the public transport solutions at the proposed Sharpness new settlement, and the cost of a new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the M5 to facilitate the planned new settlement at Wisloe, between Cam and Slimbridge.
The letter said: "Given the issues that we have identified regarding the SRN (Strategic Road Network) and the new settlements, this potentially means that a significant proportion of the Plan's allocated sites may not have a realistic or reasonable prospect of being delivered within the plan period."
They added: "We believe that our concerns are so fundamental to the Plan as a whole that this would not be something that could be appropriately addressed by an early review of the Plan."
Inspectors questioned the "usefulness" of allowing a delay to the examination and said withdrawal of the Stroud District Local Plan Review from the examination "may well be the most appropriate way forward."
Bosses at the council have now requested a six-month pause in the examination to allow time for concerns to be addressed.
In a letter published on their website yesterday the council said it noted with "concern" the advice to withdrawn the plan and appeared to question the inspectors' recommendations.
"It is our understanding that Government expects Inspectors to deal with examinations pragmatically with a focus upon addressing shortcomings in draft plans to ensure that they can be adopted and communities can benefit from up to date local plans.
"With this expectation in mind, it is considered that there are a number of options to explore fully and pragmatically before considering the withdrawal of the Plan and the loss of the benefits that an up-to-date plan would deliver to the community."
The letters have only just been made public as council leaders were away over the summer and did not meet until Tuesday (Aug 29) to consider the situation.
The council was keen to highlight that the inspector's letter suggests they do not have significant concerns with most of the plan's policies and proposed new housing and development allocations.
It said the issue with the M5 capacity is not one it can resolve alone, as other partners are responsible for the strategic road network, but it is keen to work collaboratively on the problem.
Cllr Chloe Turner, chair of SDC environment committee, said: "I'm pleased that the Planning Inspectors do not have any issues with the majority of our draft Local Plan.
"It is therefore very surprising and disappointing that they are suggesting we withdraw the Plan.
"The Inspectors have highlighted that some of the proposed new housing will generate traffic affecting junctions 12 and 14 of the M5.
"However, we have identified how an increase in traffic can be addressed in our response to the inspectors and we're prepared to work further with local stakeholders to provide additional evidence and other options to help us get this plan over the line."
The council said the six-month pause would allow it to work with partners to find a solution to the issues raised about the Sharpness and Wisloe developments and ensure "development happens in the most appropriate way".
Cllr Catherine Braun, leader of Stroud District Council, said: "It is very important to all of us who live and work in Stroud district that we have a local plan in place so that we can control where new housing and development takes place.
"Our draft local plan has taken four years to prepare and been through extensive consultation with residents and businesses, parish and town councils in the district.
"If we don't have a local plan to meet central Government-imposed housing targets then planning applications in unsuitable locations, and without the community infrastructure that's needed will end up getting approved on appeal."
The Inspectors will now consider the council's response before deciding on whether to stop or pause their examination of the draft Stroud District Local Plan.
Copies of the Inspector's letter, the Council's response and FAQs on the Local Plan can all be seen at www.stroud.gov.uk
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