West of England councils told to start again on strategic housing plan

Photo of Cllr Brian Allinson holding JSP consultation documents.

A masterplan that defines the strategy for delivering 105,000 new homes across the West of England by 2036 lies in tatters after government inspectors recommended that it should be rewritten from the ground up.

The Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) was worked on by the councils of Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol City, North Somerset, and South Gloucestershire over a period of more than three years, prior to being submitted to the government in April 2018.

Its purpose is to provide a strategic, overarching vision and framework to help deliver the number of new homes, land for employment purposes and the supporting infrastructure that it is anticipated will be needed over the next 20 years.

One of the main purposes of the JSP is to identify so-called strategic development locations (SDLs) which have the potential to deliver large scale development (500+ dwellings) over the plan period.

A large number of SDLs were identified in an ‘issues and options’ consultation that was put out to the public in November 2015. These were finally whittled down to a list of twelve sites by the time the JSP was submitted for examination by government inspectors last year.

The chosen SDLs in South Gloucestershire are the proposed Buckover Garden Village (Tortworth) along with sites in Charfield, Coalpit Heath, Thornbury and Yate.

A proposed development of 2,000 new homes on the site of Woodlands Golf Course, near Bradley Stoke, didn’t make it into the final list.

But the two government-appointed inspectors who have been examining the JSP for “soundness” over the past 16 months have now dropped a bombshell by stating that they have “significant concerns” over the way the twelve SDLs were selected.

In a letter sent to the four councils on 1st August, the inspectors wrote: “We are not persuaded that there is evidence to demonstrate that the SDLs, and thus the overall spatial strategy, have been selected for inclusion in the plan, against reasonable alternatives, on a robust, consistent and objective basis.”

In a further letter sent on 11th September, the inspectors said they had concluded that there are “very substantial soundness problems with the plan”, adding that an “enormous amount of work” would be needed to produce a plan “capable of being found sound”.

The inspectors suggested that it would be appropriate for that the councils to now return to the drawing board to “formulate a robust, consistent and objective framework against which candidate SDLs can be selected for inclusion in the plan”.

Speaking on behalf of the four West of England councils in response to the latest letter from the inspectors, Bristol City Council’s Cabinet member for spatial planning and city design Cllr Nicola Beech said:

“We are disappointed by some of the conclusions drawn by the Inspectors, but we are also pleased to see they have confirmed the benefits of our strategic approach to planning, and our co-operation across the region. We remain fully committed to working together to achieve the best outcomes and while it is clear that we will not pursue the JSP in its current form, we will now consider their detailed comments carefully as we work to determine the best way forward.”

“We share the desire of the residents and businesses who make up our communities and want to see us working together effectively. We are still totally committed to working co-operatively to provide the homes, space for jobs, the living environment and the infrastructure we need to meet the challenges of the future – including addressing the housing crisis, the need for jobs and affordable housing, and responding to the climate emergency.”

“We will fully consider the technical details carefully and the potential options open to us to move forwards, in addition to considering the implications for the ongoing development of Local Plans. We will do this in the coming weeks and anticipate submitting a formal response to the Planning Inspectorate as soon as practicable.”

Photo: South Gloucestershire councillor Brian Allinson holding copies of the JSP public consultation documents in November 2015.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of the Bradley Stoke Journal magazine (on page 2). The magazine is delivered FREE, EVERY MONTH (except August), to ALL 8,700 homes in Bradley Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.

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