Shropshire Star

Fresh consultation needed as part of 'greatly delayed' local plan – as council suggests dropping gypsy and traveller site proposals

Shropshire Council's "greatly delayed" local plan is unlikely to be officially in place before 2025, according to inspectors.

Shropshire Council needs to carry out more work on its local plan.

The latest developments over the review of the council's proposed 2016-2038 local plan have been revealed in a series of letters between the council and the inspectors in charge of approving the proposals.

They include the inspectors' own comments that the 'greatly delayed' proposals are not expected to be fully signed off before 2025, and a suggestion from the council that it could "remove the issue of Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation" from the review.

The council will also have to conduct a fresh six-week consultation on updates to key documents, owing to concerns raised by the inspectors.

That consultation will be on updated versions of a 'sustainability appraisal' and 'housing and employment topic paper' – set to run from April into June.

It is required because the inspectors have voiced concerns over the council's plans to find space for 1,500 homes and 30 hectares of employment land for councils in the Black Country.

The issue has also been the subject of legal threats from lawyers acting for The Bradford Estates, which wants to build up to 3,000 homes on green belt land to the west of Tong – a proposal the council has decided not to include in the local plan.

In January the inspectors wrote to the council saying they were worried the evidence for the proposal did not match the outcome.

The issue is crucial as it could mean the council has to find sites for more homes and employment land – potentially 1,500 houses and 30 hectares for employment.

The Local Plan is one of the council's most important policies and sets out locations across the authority's area where housing and commercial developments are recommended take place up until 2038.

It is made up of a combined 30,800 homes over that time-frame and 300 hectares of employment land.

In its latest response to the inspectors the council says it expects to update the documents by April, adding: "Subject to approval at Cabinet, the material would then be submitted to the examination in late April alongside the commencement of the required Regulation 19 style consultation. This six week consultation would be undertaken between April and June."

Issues have also arisen over the council's plans for sites for gypsy and traveller accommodation.

In a January letter the inspectors said they were worried that the council's evidence for its plans would be up to eight years old by the time the proposals could come into force, in 2025.

As a result they asked the council to complete a new Gypsy and Traveller Accommodation Assessment (GTAA).

But, responding this month the council expressed "disappointment" at the inspectors' view on the matter, adding: "We continue to be of the firm view that the council’s evidence on this matter is both up-to-date and proportionate."

It says that advice from legal experts says the work on a new GTAA could take six months, and that it "could have the effect of further delaying the examination process".

The council's letter also says it is worried about paying for the work on the new GTAA, due to the authority's funding issues.

It states: "Whilst we appreciate cost is not a material planning consideration, it is also worth noting that the commissioning of this evidence would place an additional financial burden on the council’s budget at a time where significant savings are being required in the next financial year from all council departments."

In conclusion the letter, from Eddie West the council's planning policy and strategy manager asks inspectors to reconsider their request – or allow the council to remove "the issue" from the plan.

It states: "If you remain of the opinion that the council does need to prepare this additional evidence, we would request that you give consideration to the alternative possibility of the council seeking to remove the issue of gypsy and traveller accommodation from this partial local plan review.

"I should make clear this is not the council’s preferred outcome. our clear preference is that the draft Shropshire Local Plan includes a positive framework for accommodating the needs of the gypsy and traveller community. However, the council is also aware of the importance of expediting the ongoing examination process."

The inspectors are expected to respond at a later date.

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