Shropshire Council faces legal action threat from major landowner over local plan
A major landowner looking to build nearly 3,000 homes on the green belt is threatening to take a council to court over its local plan.
Lawyers acting for the Bradford Estates have written to Shropshire Council warning they could launch a bid for a Judicial Review if the authority does not amend its proposed local plan.
The local plan, which is going through a lengthy approval process with government-appointed planning inspectors, sets out where homes and businesses can be built in every area of the county up until 2038.
In an extra headache for Shropshire Council, the inspectors considering the plan say that after receiving the Bradford Estates' letter, they do have "soundness concerns" over the authority's latest changes to the plan.
The issue centres on whether or not the council needs to find space for another 1,500 homes in the county, along with 30 hectares of business land – on top of the 30,800 homes already set out in the plan, which the council itself says Shropshire needs to build.
The council had agreed to provide space for 1,500 homes for Black Country councils which are short of development space, under what are called 'duty to co-operate' rules.
In February this year planning inspectors questioned how Shropshire Council had fulfilled the requirement – asking whether it should be providing another 1,500 homes on top of the 30,800 in its proposal – and asked for more information.
But, in its response the council's cabinet in July said the homes would be covered through proposals already in the local plan document and within the 30,800 homes already proposed – including 600 homes out of 1,050 proposed in the Tasley Garden Village at Bridgnorth, 600 homes from the 1,000 at the former Ironbridge Power Station, and 300 from the 1,500 planned for land between Mytton Oak Road and Hanwood Road in Shrewsbury.
The contribution of 30 hectares of employment land for the Black Country will come as part of 39 hectares planned for land to the east of Shifnal Industrial Estate, on Upton Lane.
Were the council to have to add another 1,500 homes to the plan it could open the door for the inclusion of the Bradford Estates' proposals for 'Weston', a development planned for land north of Junction 3 of the M54 and to the west of the village of Tong.
The overall ambitions are to build 2,900 homes on the land, along with an 80 hectare Midlands Tech Park, which it says would create more than 9,000 jobs.
Shropshire Council has previously decided not to include the Weston development in the local plan.
In its letter, the Bradford Estates' solicitors said that council has not fulfilled the requests from the inspectors in February – by failing to provide the Black Country requirements on top of those identified for Shropshire.
It warns the authority not to re-start the plan process, which it claims would be "unlawful" without changes.
The letter states: "The council’s failure to take any step to consider additional land to accommodate the Black Country’s housing and employment need but, instead, to reduce the housing and employment requirements of Shropshire, raises significant doubts as to whether the council has acted for the purpose of achieving a sound plan.
"Rather, it appears that the council’s purpose is to avoid releasing further green belt land (beyond that already identified in the submitted plan) to accommodate Shropshire’s requirements and the Black Country’s needs."
The inspectors examining the plan have issued their own letter to the council, saying they are concerned about the issues raised in the Bradford Estates letter, and will send the council a full request of what needs addressing.
It states: "We are currently formulating a detailed letter which sets out our concerns in so far as they relate to these matters of soundness and the next steps to remedy these."
Responding, the council's planning policy and strategy manager, Eddie West, said the authority would consider the concerns when it receives them.
He states: "We now clearly await your more detailed letter which will set these soundness concerns out, and the next steps to remedy these."
He added: "We note that you urge the council to consider the contents of the letter and pre-action protocol with regard to implications on the soundness of the plan.
"This is something we have and will continue to do. However, in the absence of any detailed and clear assessment of your soundness concerns, and how to remedy them, there is little the council can do to progress matters further as things stand."
Responding to the Shropshire Star, a spokesman for the Bradford Estates said: "The issue in our letter to the Secretary of State is simply that the council has not addressed the concerns raised by the inspectors in writing back in February, and has not allocated employment and housing sites to meet both its own need and to help meet Black Country needs as required and established at the examination to date.
“Ensuring that Shropshire’s Local Plan is sound is critical to the future of our community. The council’s proposals are unsound and do not satisfy its housing and employment land supply obligations and may cause the plan to fail and expose the county to unplanned development if there is no sound plan in place. The concerns raised can easily be rectified by properly allocating new sites that accommodate the properly identified need.”
Shropshire Council said the issues would be best discussed in the local plane examination – and not the courts.
Councillor Chris Schofield, Cabinet member for planning said: "The council acknowledges the recent concerns from the planning inspectors regarding the soundness of the local plan.
“However, without a clear understanding of what these soundness concerns relate to, the council cannot respond further at this stage, aside from to point out that the proper place for matters of soundness to be considered and resolved is through the Local Plan Examination, rather than being considered by the courts at part of a judicial review.
“At this stage, the council cannot comment further on the pre-action letter prepared on behalf of Bradford Estates. Once the council has an understanding of the soundness concerns of the inspectors we will be in a better position to respond.
“At this stage we remain confident we can make constructive progress with the examination in the coming months, with a view to adopting the Local Plan in 2024.”