19 March 2012
Oh dear! We always thought that the emerging local planning policy for Waverley, the Core Strategy, was going to struggle to get through its examination by a government appointed planning inspector but it looks like it could be even worse than we expected. It has just emerged that Waverley has been in difficult exchanges with the appointed Inspector, Mr Hethrington, since 20 February but these exchanges have only just been made public – see Waverley’s site here.
There are two levels of difficulty a local plan can run into. The lesser level is that it is deemed not be “sound” when submitted to an Inspector but with extra work by the local authority it is capable of being made sound. That will usually require a long suspension period of between 6 to 9 months for the extra work to be carried out. That is what has happened recently to East Hampshire District Council. That is what I always thought would happen in Waverley’s case as I could never see the local plan being found sound without a lot of extra work.
Even more serious is when an Inspector thinks the core strategy is so flawed that it cannot be salvaged and will need to be withdrawn completely. In these circumstances the local authority will probably have to start again and go back to square one. Obviously this is a very serious prospect indeed for any local authority and not something any Inspector will do unless he or she has no choice. However in his note of 20 February the Inspector sent Waverley a clear signal that he is actively considering requiring the plan to be withdrawn. There seem to be two main reasons for this. The first is that the Inspector is seriously concerned that the Duty to Co-operate (with adjoining authorities) has not been complied with. As he says in the note, if he reaches that view he has no option but to recommend non-adoption. The other area of major concern for the Inspector is Waverley’s housing evidence base. This does not come as a big surprise because Waverley’s evidence base for housing numbers is very old, between 7-10 years, and so out of date that it does not comply with national planning policy. The Inspector is clearly very concerned at the inadequacy of the housing evidence base and it is another defect which he thinks is potentially so serious that it could bring the plan down altogether. He has therefore decided to have full hearings on these two issues ahead of considering any other matters because if he decides the problems in either area are so serious that they cannot be rectified then he has to fail Waverley’s core strategy and there is no point even considering all the other issues.
Kathy Smyth, Planning Spokesperson