In January, a review of the borough’s 2011-2031 Local Plan – the document that outlines what should be built and where – was officially launched.
Councillor David Wright, the portfolio holder for planning, said delaying it risked a central government takeover freezing residents out of the decision-making process.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is currently consulting on a “Planning for the Future” white paper.
Conservative opposition leader Andrew Eade said this would “undoubtedly affect any review the council undertakes of the local plan”, and recommended waiting.
The Labour-run cabinet approved moving the review process on to the next stage.
Councillor Wright said this “issues and options” phase includes a “technical consultation” between October 12 and December 4.
“This is about our overarching approach,” he said.
“We would go on later in the process to talk about specific sites and our broader technical approach.
“The government has been very clear in its proposed planning reforms and the planning white paper, that, where local authorities fail to address their development requirements, the government will do it for them.
“Such a situation would remove local control over the plan. It is disastrous for local democracy, in my view, and it opens the borough up for potentially unplanned and speculative development in order to meet national housing targets.
“Fundamentally this government is proposing to centralise the planning system, following on from the Prime Minister’s mantra to ‘build, build, build’. We think it’s best to plan locally with a real input from local people and through our local democratic process.”
He said the review aimed to promote “employment-led growth”, “a forest community”, regenerate towns and infrastructure and provide accommodation, particularly affordable and specialist housing while tackling climate change, and includes a proposal to extend the document’s lifespan to 2040.
Councillor Eade, who attends cabinet as a non-voting observer, pointed out that the report, prepared by Strategic Planning Team Leader Gavin Ashford for the 10-member executive, said “a delay in bringing forward the review to await the final outcome of the government’s white paper would detrimentally affect the borough’s ability to ‘bounce back’ post-recession”, respond to inward investment opportunities and properly address housing need.
“But,” Councillor Eade said, “we have a local plan already to continue to drive housing growth forward. Or are you saying, at the moment, that the council’s plan isn’t fit for purpose?”
He said planning decisions under the existing Local Plan “continually nibble away at our green spaces”, and said he agreed with Councillor Wright’s statement that they “require real and strong protection”.
Councillor Eade said: “The issues and options document will be critical for the sustainable development of our borough, and we will rigorously challenge where necessary.”
He said the government’s proposals were currently unknown but could be “significant and huge”.
“Final decisions will have to wait until the government reaches its own conclusions on planning policy,” he said.
Liberal Democrat leader Bill Tomlinson pointed out the government “already sets housing number targets for each local authority”, and their only discretion was over where they go.
Councillor Wright confirmed this, and said the government housing supply algorithm “would appear to require us to produce at least 940 to 1,000 homes a year”.
He called this a “central diktat”, adding: “If we’re not careful, they’ll also decide where the sites are going to be. That’s why we need to continue with the review, to ensure we have some local democratic input into the process.”