“Unsound” Local Plan Approved after Pressure from Westminster?

Here for Hereford has been engaged throughout the development of the Herefordshire Local Plan to try and ensure that the growth planned for the County, in particular for Hereford and its rural hinterland, is sustainable and enhances the local economy and environment, and improves health and well being for its residents.

As Here for Hereford warned, the Core Strategy  submitted for the Examination in Public  and approved by Herefordshire Council as the plan for 2011-2031, was found “unsound”. This was recognised early on in the examination process when the Planning Inspector advised the Council to withdraw its Waste and Minerals policies for Herefordshire. Waste and Minerals affect many areas of the County and are a key element to make the Plan truly coherent, strategic and fully integrated with other elements to enable sound growth in Herefordshire.

After the Feb 2015 Examination in Public attended by many well informed individuals, parish councils and campaign groups such as CPRE and Here for Hereford, the Council released a list of 65 Main Modifications (see here ) and 196 Minor Modifications to try and make the Plan “sound”. After the Inspectors report was published in September 2015 the Council added a further 27 “Minor” modifications, including wording changes to actual planning policies.

The 29th September report by the Planning Inspector recommends that by adopting her 65 Main Modifications that the Local Plan would now be “sound”. This is surprising to many who attended the Examination in Public as at that time  the Planning Inspector  required  the Council to clearly identify the boundary of the “Hereford Area Plan” which is to take 6,500 homes; update the maps of the City Centre (which still showed the original livestock market) and make many other changes. The changes originally requested (see the Inspector’s list dated 13th Feb here) have not been implemented. Instead they have been deferred to lower tier plans (e.g. the Hereford Area Plan; The Waste & Minerals Plan and the Community Infrastructure Levy Charging Plan, to name just a few).

Many feel that by not implementing the key changes specified at the Public Examination, the approval of the plan by the Planning Inspectorate is nothing to do with the Council addressing massive inconsistencies in the plan  but everything to do with the Government wanting to see Local Plans adopted regardless of their “soundness”.

The quote from Brandon Lewis Minister of State for Housing and Planning in a written statement this summer stated “ councils who produce a Local Plan  ……  should be able to rely on Planning Inspectors to support them in the examination process”.  (Full ministerial statement here ).

Despite now being found “Sound” the Inspectors Report  clearly states there are still risks to delivery of the Local Plan for Herefordshire. These are:-

  1. Risk to the River Wye SAC – mainly from construction of the Hereford Relief Road but also from housing growth in the River Wye Catchment area. The Government are already facing legal action over their failure to improve the water in the River Wye SAC since 2000 and the damage this has done to wildlife, including the salmon. (see our earlier article here ).
  2. Water Infrastructure – the lack of capacity within sewerage treatment works to support high levels of housing growth in Hereford and some of the market towns and particularly in rural areas where there is often no mains sewerage . Also the lack of good, high pressure water mains fresh water supplies.
  3. Hereford Relief Road (HRR) – The Inspector at para 54 and 63 states “the HRR is not identified in the Council’s Local Transport Plan [C46a] as planned infrastructure, the funding is not secure and it is not part of Highways England (HE) Road Investment Strategy for 2015 – 2020… The route has not been modelled or identified in detail and there is a high degree of uncertainty about whether the HRR is viable and can be achieved within the plan period”.

Sadly by retaining the £200 million Hereford Relief Road, as part of the Local Plan with no clear route, no clearly identified funding and a corridor the width of Kings Acre Road, Herefordshire Council are blighting all homes and development along the “proposed route corridor”. This is despite the Inspector saying at para 91 “the submission Plan policy HD3 relating to movement failed to emphasise the importance of achieving and promoting sustainable transport to help address demand. MM016 adds text to the Hereford movement section to ensure that the focus of the policy … is to facilitate sustainable transport”.

Here for Hereford will continue to try and help a more sustainable Local Plan to be developed for reasonable growth within the County through the processes of consultation and examination of all the subsequent Plan Documents and at any early reviews of the adopted Core Strategy. The first of these reviews could be as soon as 2017 according to the Planning Inspectors recommendations.

At the  Full Council meeting on Friday 16th October 2015 it was not clear which version of the various Core Strategy – Local Plan 2011-2031 documents and policies map they adopted. We feel that this fails to promote clarity and transparency in the Planning process and does not help councillors to fully understand the policies they were asked to adopt.

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