Shropshire Star

Shropshire Council's major housing development plans are 'unsound' - inspectors

Planning inspectors say Shropshire Council's 'local plan' is currently 'unsound' and needs further work to progress.

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Protesters attended hearings on the local plan last year

In a lengthy update, a trio of examining inspectors have delivered their verdict on the plan so far – following a series of hearings last year, and in January.

The document is one of the most important to be put together by the council, setting out where homes and businesses can be built in every area of the county up until 2038.

The council's plan is made up of a combined 30,800 homes over that time-frame – including 1,500 which are put forward to help Black Country councils which need extra space for housing.

Inspectors need to declare the plan 'sound' for it to be adopted and become a concrete policy.

In their latest update inspectors have highlighted a number of issues with the plan as it currently stands – including how and where it provides 1,500 homes and 30 hectares of employment for Black Country councils and whether that requires extra use of green belt land, a five-year land supply for housing, the council's own economic growth strategy and proposals to redevelop the Tern Hill military site.

Inspectors have suggested that the council could need to find more sites to accommodate the 1,500 homes and 30 hectares of employment land – and that it could have to be on green belt land.

They say that if the council wishes to pursue a 'high growth' strategy for the number of houses it wants to build then it could have to include more sites for homes to support the Black Country requests.

The letter from inspectors says the council's original 'sustainability appraisal' (SA), which sets out what houses are needed where, only took into account Shropshire's needs, and not the Black Country's, and the document needs further work.

It states: "At the hearings, the Council suggested that these 1,500 new homes and 30ha of employment land is accounted for within the aforementioned housing and employment land requirement in policy SP2. We cannot see how. They are not mentioned in the SA and form no part of the growth scenarios considered therein."

It adds: "We are concerned that the objectives and geographical scope of the Plan changed when the Council agreed to accommodate some of the unmet needs of the Black Country, but unfortunately the SA was not revisited.

"The SA is based on meeting only the needs of Shropshire. It tested different housing and economic growth options as well as different distribution options, but these were all based on just meeting the needs of Shropshire.

"Further SA work therefore needs to be undertaken to assess the likely effects of the proposed strategy – which is based on meeting Shropshire’s housing and employment needs and contributing towards unmet needs from the Black Country."

The inspectors say that the work could result in more sites being needed for housing and employment land.

It states: "If, following the additional SA work, the Council chooses to pursue the same growth option as before then it follows that the housing and employment land requirements will increase, and more sites will be required.

"Consideration will also need to be given to the distribution of development since accommodating some of the unmet needs may result in more sites being required in the part of Shropshire nearest the Black Country."

It also says the council needs to specifically say which development sites are contributing to the Black Country requirements.

It states: "If the intention is to contribute towards the unmet need from the Black Country, then for effectiveness this distinction needs to be set out in the housing and employment land requirements in the Plan. In doing so the Council will also need to consider which site or sites in the Plan will be identified to meet that need."

Inspectors also say the council needs to revisit the release of green belt land – with some potentially needed for the Black Country housing.

They said: "Given the Council were planning on releasing Green Belt land to meet its own needs, it seems unlikely that the unmet needs of the Black Country could be met without the release of Green Belt land."

The issues could impact a bid from the landed estates business, Bradford Estates, to build around 3,000 homes and create a significant employment site with 9,000 jobs, on green belt to the north of Junction 3 of the M54 and west of the village of Tong – in a development called 'Weston'.

That proposal was originally rejected by Shropshire Council and not included in the plan.

But barristers representing the Bradford Estates took part in planning hearings on the local plan both last year, and in January, as they look to progress the project.

Reacting to the latest developments a spokesman said: "The Inspectors of the Local Plan have made clear that representators will have an opportunity to comment on matters concerning the Examination at a later stage, including the scale of unmet housing and employment need, the role of Green Belt land in satisfying this need and the Council’s Five-Year Housing Land Supply. We look forward to exploring how Weston can contribute to these identified needs.”

The inspectors say that that given 'there is a lot in our letter for the council to consider' they have not set a deadline for a response to the issues.

A Shropshire Council spokesperson said: "Shropshire’s Local Plan has passed a significant stage following the Stage 1 Hearing sessions. It has met the legal ‘Duty to Co-operate’, which effectively means the inspectors are satisfied that Shropshire Council has worked with neighbouring and closely-related authorities. We will now be able to move to the next stage of the examination process.

"The inspectors have acknowledged the agreement between Shropshire Council and the Black Country Authorities regarding the level of unmet need that Shropshire is proposing to accommodate in the plan, and have not requested that Shropshire Council reconsider this figure.

"The inspectors have also stated that the council’s approach to identifying the housing and employment land needs derived from Shropshire itself is sound.

"The upshot of these conclusions is that the inspectors consider that the Examination can proceed.

"However, the inspectors have identified a few areas of the plan they consider will require the council to propose additional main modifications in order to make the plan sound. They have been specific about the areas they wish the council to consider further, including how the agreed level of unmet need from the Black Country is accommodated.

"The need for local authorities to provide main modifications to plans during the examination process is not unusual, and indeed is a key aspect of the examination process.

"Over the coming weeks Shropshire Council will be considering in detail its response to the inspectors’ concerns and this will be publicly available when it is ready. Following that, the council and the inspectors will be able to agree a future timetable for the Stage 2 hearing sessions."