To consider the recommendations from the meeting(s) of the Cabinet held on 14th October 2020.
It was noted that the recommendations from the Cabinet meeting held on 14th October were included within the supplementary agenda pack, which Members had received electronically. The background papers to the recommendations were included in the main agenda pack on pages 53 to 85.
Planning for the Future White Paper and Changes to the Planning System – BDC responses
Councillor A Kent, Deputy Leader and the Portfolio Holder for Planning and Regulatory Services, confirmed that he would be recommending that the Council submitted appendix A (as detailed in the agenda pack) to MHCLG as the Council’s response to the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper and that appendix B be confirmed as the its response to the Changes to the Planning System Consultation. He took the opportunity to thank all Members that had attended the two Strategic Planning Steering Group (SPSG) meetings where the papers had been discussed in detail.
Whilst Councillor Kent acknowledged that most people had participated in the SPSG meetings, he took Council through some of the key areas within the documents. These were:
· The Council’s response under section 1.3 (page 57 of agenda packs) where the Council was resisting removing villages from the Greenbelt and made this point very clearly.
· Section 1.4 (page 58 of agenda packs) Protected Areas - if an area was not protected it could be developed – the Council requested further clarity in respect of this. The desire for self-build and modular homes to be included in all development areas was also being requested.
· Section 2.1 (page 59 of the agenda pack) There was great concern around limiting the development management policies.
· Section 2.4 this was focused on the automation of planning applications and whilst Councillor Kent was focused on automation, he did not believe that replacing officers and Members with such a system – so the Council still required a human touch but would still like to see applications being processed more efficiently in the future.
· Section 3.2 (page 60 of the agenda pack) The removal of the duty to co-operate was welcome as it was felt that this had not worked successful for this Council and had also delayed the process.
· Section 3.3 the removal of the sustainability appraisal was also welcomed for the reasons specified.
· Section 3.4 was in respect of reserved sites. Councillor Kent acknowledged that this Council had not delivered the level of housing that it should have and specifically this was often due to not having sites available on time to meet the needs. The use of reserved sites would be useful in this respect.
· Section 4.1 (page 61 of the agenda pack) was in respect of the Greenbelt, whilst the Council remained supportive of the method to determine housing need it was also very cautious as the biggest unknown was to how land constraints would be factored in. Until the precise weighting was known it would be difficult to plan for the future and concerns were raised around how the Council would reach the affordability level.
· Section 4.2 raised concerns around the lack of guidance on planning for other development needs, particular reference being made to economic growth.
· Section 4.3 (page 62 of the agenda pack) the revised housing numbers, whilst the number was noted given the revised projections since the announcement of this target, it should be revisited to properly reflect these figures and linked up to the most recent evidence. It was noted that Covid-19 and the impact of it should also be taken into account.
· Section 8.6 (page 66 of the agenda pack) the right to be heard. The Council did not support the removal of the public involvement even further.
· Section 9.1 (page 67 of the agenda pack) the Council was strongly in favour of Neighbourhood Plans and had a good relationship both past and present in this respect and these should be strengthened and not removed moving forwards.
· Section 14.4 (page 71 of the agenda pack) it was believed that this would not foster innovation and therefore the Council had commented accordingly. Section14.5 referred to modern methods of construction which this Council had always been supportive of had made relevant comments to this end in its response.
· Section 18.1 (page 74 of the agenda pack) The Council believed that strong commitments in the Future Homes Standard were required if targets were to be met and the move towards slowing the impacts of climate change. It was important that homes of the future were built to be as sustainable as possible and as efficient as possible.
· It was noted that one of the main areas of concern was around the introduction of the new Community Infrastructure Levy, which had been responded to in detail.
Councillor Kent reiterated that the response had been discussed in detail at the SPSG meetings and he felt that it was a balanced response.
In respect of the second item, the response to the Changes to the Planning System, he did not propose to go into this in detail as it was a relatively short document, but was happy to respond to any specific questions in respect of it, if necessary. He did however highlight the standard methodology for assessing housing numbers, which he accepted was controversial. From the Council’s point of view it wanted to ensure that it was providing the residents of Bromsgrove with the houses that they actually needed. It was felt that houses needed to be built and if a five year review was in place and the Council could get the affordability issue in place and review the housing numbers at that stage.
The recommendations were proposed by Councillor Kent and seconded by Councillor K May.
Following presentation of the report Members Discussed a number of areas in more detail, including:
· Members welcomed the Portfolio Holder’s commitment to community engagement.
· The Portfolio Holder was asked to provide further detail in respect of the commitment to climate change and in particular whether the White Paper would have any impact on the Council’s commitment to carbon neutrality. Councillor Kent responded that there was a strong commitment within the document to meet the climate change requirements that the Council was looking to do, for example tree lined streets and the sustainability within the proposals was clear and that whatever was built in the future was fit for the future. It was also confirmed that once feedback from the Consultation had been received there would be further detailed discussion at the SPSG meetings to ensure Member involvement in future responses.
· Councillor Kent also advised all Members that he would be happy to respond in writing should any Members wish to email him with more detailed questions on specific areas within the document.
· Members were supportive of the right to be heard for residents and the importance of the Section 106 monies being the responsibility of the Council in order for it to be spent where it was felt most appropriate.
· Clarification was sought in respect of section 5.1 on page 63 of the agenda pack and not the need for outline permission. It was suggested that in strategic planning terms this was often in many years hence and the area of importance in giving outline permission gave the Council the opportunity to speak to the local residents as areas changed, the Portfolio Holder was asked how he felt about this? Councillor Kent confirmed that this was a valid point and he confirmed that one of the sections in respect of this had been questioned. The areas referred to was where a growth area had been designated for either housing or economic needs and therefore deemed to have the benefits of outline planning permission. As this was open to interpretation it was agreed that further clarification was needed on this in the way that it was explained. It was hoped that this would happen at a later stage of the consultation. It was also suggested that this could inflate the price of land in particular areas. The Portfolio Holder hoped that the standard methods of economics would ensure that this would not be the case. What the Council did not want to see in its drive for affordable homes was the prices being pushed up. It was hoped that the proposal for five year reviews within the document would be put in place and this it was hoped, would mitigate the concerns raised by a number of Members. As it was clear from recent events that it was not practicable to try and make a plan for ten or twenty years moving forwards.
· Some Members felt uneasy about a number of the responses, particularly in respect of the number of statements of clarity rather than statements as to what was needed in Bromsgrove as a Green Belt district. It was questioned whether some amendments could be sent at a later date should the need be necessary. The Portfolio Holder responded that it had been made clear in meetings he had had at various levels, that this was a consultation period which would go on for a certain length of time and he was happy to take forward any questions and suggestions made at future SPSG meetings to the relevant people and lobby on the Council’s behalf.
· The Council was struggling with the Brown Field land and it was important to ensure that the people of Bromsgrove could live, work and stay in the district.
· The level of affordability was further discussed and the impact it had on residents and their families. The figure of 11 plus would be defended by the Council and it did not want to see it going to the extent of 40 or 50 as had been suggested.
Councillor Hotham asked for the documents to be considered in two parts, and whilst he broadly agreed with the first part, the Planning for the Future White Paper, although he did raise concerns in respect of the standardised route to determining housing numbers. He was however very unhappy with the algorithm used to determine housing numbers as totally inappropriate, as this Council already had the need to build a large number of houses and this would now almost double that figure. He did comment that if those houses were to be all affordable then he would have some sympathy but bearing in mind that the report suggested that the sites should 40 to 50 houses before affordable housing came into the equation it was difficult to understand how the consultation could benefit affordability of housing. If the housing numbers were nationally determined then this Council would not have any say in those numbers. He believed therefore that the Council should be far stronger in rebutting part 2 as there were particularly issues which were unique to Bromsgrove District. Councillor Hotham went on to comment that he had looked through the questions and had compared them to the responses which had been completed on behalf of Redditch Borough Council and he had been disappointed to note that all but one questions had the same response for both councils. He believed that Redditch had a completely different set of problems to those of Bromsgrove and therefore suggested that, although Members had been reassured several times that the Strategic Planners were separate for both Councils, that this was not the case, it was clear from these responses that there was just one planning department which looked at Redditch and Bromsgrove as a whole. He asked that part of the report be re-visited and a response prepared which much better reflected the needs of Bromsgrove.
Councillor Kent responded that he was disappointed with this view as the main focus of the responses was in respect of affordable housing for the district. He advised that if the Council did not build houses then it would not be able to reduce the average earning level in order to achieve this. It was imperative that the figure was reduced in order for people to be able to afford to live and work in Bromsgrove. It was essential that the Council met the needs of its residents and it was not doing this at the moment.
The Leader advised Council that at every DCN call she had been involved in the Minister had reassured her that this was the first stage of the consultation and there would be further consultations as the matter progressed and there would be many further opportunities for Members to be consulted on this matter. She also reminded Members of the Peter Brett and Brendon Nevin reports and the results that they came up with in respect of Bromsgrove, she also reminded Members of the demographic of the district and those families who were leaving the area as they could not afford to live in it. She made reference to the number of hectares of employment land left on the current plan. The Council had a duty of care to ensure that it made sustainable communities and inspire people to want to live in Bromsgrove, which had good connectivity to the surrounding areas. The policy would allow the Council to do some building in sustainable positions going forward and the site analysis was therefore most important.
During the further debate which followed, Members discussed:
Councillor R Hunter asked that part 2 on page 79 of the agenda pack, the line which specifically stated that “the Council’s only preference is for clarity and certainty that an adopted methodology is substantially robust and can endure over time” be removed as it was not in the best interest of this Council.
Councillor Kent responded that he was disappointed that people did not appreciate the need to build houses in order to lower the affordability level to an acceptable level. He reiterated that the plan included a five year review and would be looked at, at that point. He therefore did not understand the logic of the arguments being put forward as he believed it was a question of economics and the need for enough houses to be built in order to reduce the affordability level. The Council was currently being penalised for not having sufficient affordable homes, through the affordability ratio.
It was suggested that the issue was the definition of affordability, whether it was the affordability of homes to buy, an example of the type of house which some Members believed was really needed in Bromsgrove was given as Roman Court, a BDHT project which was a mix of shared ownership and social rent. Homes which people on low incomes were able to have a realistic prospect of being able to afford. The Planning White Paper was putting forward first homes which were 70% of the market, a 30% discount on a market home. In many areas of Bromsgrove 70% of the market was not an entry level for a lot of residents.
Councillor Kent reminded Members that there had been ample opportunity for their comments to be noted and included in the responses both through the SPSG meetings and also when this report had been presented at Cabinet. The Council had one of the highest criteria for affordability, the Council was driving forwards with the emphasis on affordable homes and the need for social housing and efforts to reduce the waiting list were imperative moving forwards.
Councillor Hotham emphasised that he was very much in favour of affordable housing, but what he believed the District did not need was executive homes and as had been said previously in the meeting if only 40% affordable housing was the aim then the required number of affordable homes would not be achieved. There was a double problem in that there were affordability issues both in the district and outside of the district. Those that worked outside the district earned considerably more than those within it and the affordability level was calculated on the wages within the district. A different approach was needed and in his view the Council should be building proper council houses as this was the way forward and addressed the affordability issue. He again reiterated his view that the second document needed to be disregarded and a clear response for Bromsgrove be put forward.
Councillor Kent advised that the Council was not in a position where it was making the decision nationally but the Council would lobby very strongly on the points it had put across and he hoped that Council would support the responses put forward.
Councillor J. Till asked for the matter to be moved to the vote.
In his summing up Councillor Kent shared his disappointment in that coming up to the meeting there had been a very open platform for Members to put forward their views and concerns on this matter through both the SPSG meetings and Cabinet and he hoped that those opportunities would be taken up for future discussions as the consultation progressed.
Councillor Hunter raised a point of order in that both he and a number of other Members had made their views known at the SPSG meetings, which appeared to have been disregarded in the final response brought before Council at this meeting.
Councillor McDonald asked for an amendment to allow for the recommendations to be taken separately. This was seconded by Councillor S. Baxter.
On being put to the vote the amendment was lost.
1) Appendix A as attached to the report, be submitted to MHCLG as the Council’s Response to the Planning for the Future White Paper; and
2) Appendix B as attached to the report, be confirmed as the Council’s response to the Changes to the Planning System consultation.