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Inspectors recommend West of England plan be withdrawn

Words: Laura Edgar
Bristol / iStock

The Planning Inspectorate has rejected the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP), with inspectors citing concerns with the proposed Strategic Development Locations (SDLs) as one of the reasons.

Inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee said the SDLs and the overall spatial strategy are not “robust, consistent and objective”.

The spatial plan was put together by four councils: Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol City, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire.

It includes the policies and principles that have been used to determine “the most appropriate and sustainable” locations for development. It also provides for the development of 105,000 homes across the four council areas. These are provided for through individual council local plans and through the JSP.

The Bristol Post reports that objectors to the plan think alternatives to major new housing sites set out in the plan were not properly considered.

The councils submitted the plan in April 2018. Shortly after, the inspectors wrote to the councils setting out the significant concerns they had, including the way in which the overall spatial strategy, of which the proposed SDLs are an integral part, had been selected against reasonable alternatives. The councils were given the opportunity to supply further evidence in regard to this.

Despite this, the inspectors say the fundamental aspects of the plan are not sound.

In a letter to the councils, they go on to explain: "Whilst we recognise the need for pragmatism in the examination of local plans and the desirability of a plan for the West of England being found sound as soon as possible, subject if necessary to modifications, we think it only fair to advise you that we currently consider that withdrawal of the JSP from examination may well be the most appropriate way forward."

The inspectors question whether producing more evidence would address their concerns and suggest "going back several stages in the plan-making process".

Further to this, inspectors Rivett and Lee say they have concerns about the soundness of other aspects of the plan, which they will address in a more detailed letter in the near future.

A statement from the four West of England councils explains that they voluntarily agreed to bring forward a strategic plan for the Bristol and Bath city region and committed to working jointly to deliver on their shared housing and employment growth ambitions.

"Our commitment to working collaboratively to plan for the West of England’s future housing, employment and transport needs remains as strong as ever. The JSP provides certainty needed by our communities, the development sector and key stakeholders to set out a strategic policy framework," they said.

The statements says the councils are "extremely disappointed".

"Whilst the letter is disappointing and we don’t underestimate that there is work to do, we also acknowledge this is part of the plan-making process and particularly for an ambitious joint plan of this nature.

"We are the first sub region in the country to develop a strategic joint plan of this type; and as front runners, we expect to be challenged as part of this process. The innovative approach we are taking makes the inspectors’ task more difficult and we appreciate they have not yet had the opportunity to hear all of the evidence."

The councils added that they are "confident" that they will be able to provide a substantive response the the inspectors' conclusions and determine the best way forward.

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