Reigate & Banstead Local Plan – 15 Dec 16

I met the Leader of Reigate & Banstead recently because I was interested in their local Plan process which is effectively in two stages. They had used their plan making process to demonstrate to the Inspector their target for housing delivery met the Objectively Assessed Needs (OAN) for the Borough.

However as I understand it, they submitted the first part of their plan just after the new National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in 2012 and there has been some development in government thinking about OAN since then.

Even so, Reigate & Banstead recognised Green Belt sites would need to be identified to potentially meet their housing need and in the second part of their plan, they are now identifying the sites where new homes might be built, including in the Green Belt.

Please be assured I have been having “frank and robust” discussions with our MP and Ministers on this subject. I recently commented on my blog that the Local Plan being prepared by the Council is caught between our desire to protect our Green Belt and central government’s determination to increase house building, especially in the South East, to meet demand and reduce the affordability gap. The current average house price in Surrey is £443,000, compared to an average in England of £205,000.

I have also been having discussions with my Surrey Leader colleagues both collectively and individually. It is of little comfort that we all seem to be facing the same Local Plan challenge. The OAN Surrey average represents a 1.2% a year increase on current housing stock.

Tandridge is 1.3%, along with Sevenoaks, so we all have similar numbers which is not surprising as they are all derived from Office of National Statistics growth targets. The plain truth is we are all living longer which is the main driver for the increase. The challenge for us is particularly acute, as we have 94% Green Belt compared to Reigate & Banstead 69%, which is close to the Surrey average of a little over 70%.

This is a very difficult and complex subject. While districts are responsible for drawing up Local Plans, they have to be prepared following government regulation and judged by a government appointed inspector.

We also have a duty to cooperate with our neighbouring councils which just adds to the complexity. Ministers keep talking about the affordability gap (average house prices over average earnings) which is 8 for England but a massive 14 for Tandridge.

I am aware there is a government Housing White paper coming soon and the general feeling is that this will only increase the pressure on districts for housing delivery to reduce that affordability gap.

A Challenging Week – 11 Dec 16

Last Monday I had an early morning meeting with Louise Round CEO and we were joined by Kathy O’Leary our new Chief Operating Officer. As always  we started with an overview of the key issues for the week, including feedback from my meeting last week with Sam Gyimah MP, the overall parking review, starting with a survey in Oxted, a review of the waste and recycling contract with Surrey County Council and budgets.

On Tuesday evening I went to Godstone for a meeting on the Local Plan. I did an opening introduction to the session and Councillor Keith Jecks, the proposed vice chairman of Planning Policy, presented a short presentation, followed by a challenging Q&A session. I would estimate about 100+ residents were there including Conservative district councillors Nick Childs, Rose Thorn, Peter Bond, David Weightman and Lyndsey Dunbar.

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On reflection I think the Local Plan boils down to two key issues:

  1. The moral case for housebuilding re rising affordability gap (house prices in Tandridge are 14 times average earnings), with the real need for more council and affordable houses for residents of our district supported by better infrastructure.
  2. The Local plan prepared by the Council is caught between our desire for protecting our 94% Green Belt and central government’s determination to increase house building, especially in the South East, to meet demand and reduce the affordability gap. The current average house price in Surrey is £443,000 compared to average in England of £205,000.

By Thursday I was watching with interest one of those spats on an Oxted Facebook page that flare up and then die down. This one chiefly concerning myself, my daughter, some other residents and a Mike McGuinness from Lingfield. He? seems to know me rather well and clearly has been following my speeches made in the council chamber closely, also quoting from a meeting I had with Parish Council Chairmen and Clerks last week and must also have been at the Godstone meeting on Tuesday.

Odd really, as there is no McGuinness on the electoral role in Lingfield and he or she must have a very good memory or perhaps is secretly recording my speeches to be able to selectively quote from me so well! Thanks to my daughter and another resident for sticking up for me. I don’t get involved with these spats on social media as I think its counter productive.

I attended the Local Committee meeting on Friday morning. This is the first time for a few years that District Councillors have joined their County Council colleagues. The six newcomers no doubt made the meeting longer than usual!

Some important issues were discussed including flooding in Caterham, highways planned expenditure, rights of way including the crossing at Lingfield station currently, correctly in my view, temporarily closed for safety reasons, while alternative options are explored.

I was impressed by the Officer, Tor Peebles,  from Surrey C.C. the Team Leader on the Flooding issue in Caterham. Clearly a complex issue requiring a multi agency approach. I was able to confirm that Tandridge had agreed that flooding infrastructure should be a priority for Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL). I was pleased to learn that existing capacity was being brought back up to standard, clearing gullies and the “money” pit (a very large soakaway located adjacent to St Michaels Road), but keen to get a report soon on what new infrastructure required to give better protection to residents of Caterham and Croydon.

I went to the Boulthurst Way gathering on Saturday afternoon to hear local residents’ views on the open space. Considering it was a rather damp afternoon there was a good turn out and I was able to listen to views and articulate the Council’s position on this piece of land which it owns.

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The Council has put this piece of Land into the Local Plan sites consultation. The Council’s Resources Committee has already said a significant open space must be retained for amenity value and children’s play area. Residents have until 30 December to give us their views as part of the local Plan process.

We have a number of options of what we could do with this section of the land that could be developed (developing the whole site is not being contemplated):

  • Do nothing, acknowledging the recreational use of this land.
  • Sell it to a developer to meet general housing need.
  • Build council houses (average wait for priority families is currently 3 years).
  • Build affordable homes which the Council owns and then lets at a lower rate than market prices to key local workers.
  • Develop the site as part of a wider scheme in the area.

We also need to demonstrate to a government inspector, as part of the Local Plan process, that we have investigated the various council owned sites and have an evidence based approach to defend our district from unwelcome development.

Thank you to the organisers and for the sense of fair play extended to myself and fellow conservative Councillors Liz Parker, Barry Compton and Rose Thorn.

On Sunday we held our annual Christingle service at St Mary’s Oxted. Well attended with over 100 in the congregation as we assemble our Christingle from an orange, candle, cocktail sticks and sweets. Sung my first Christmas carol this year “O little town of Bethlehem”.

MP letter to Parish Councils – 2 December 16

Dear all,

mf-sam-lp-wrap-2Thank you to those who have submitted questions or points of qualification following our meeting with John Howell MP on 17th November. I have been in contact with the Department for Communities and Local Government and would like to take this opportunity to share their responses with you.

“Advice and Assistance” and Funding District Councils do not have to provide funds to neighbourhood planning bodies. The legislation states that a local planning authority must give such “advice and assistance” as they consider appropriate for facilitating the making of neighbourhood plans. It specifically states that this does not require the giving of financial assistance. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill, currently before Parliament, will require local planning authorities to publish their policies on the advice or assistance they will give to neighbourhood planning groups. More information on the role of the local planning authority is set out here: http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/neighbourhood-planning/the-role-of-the-local-planning-authority-in-neighbourhood-planning/ There is, however, funding of up to £9,000 available for communities preparing a neighbourhood plan. Certain priority groups are also eligible for a further £6,000 and technical support. This money is provided via DCLG’s support providers Locality, and more information can be found here: http://mycommunity.org.uk/funding-options/neighbourhood-planning/

CIL monies Under the CIL rules, neighbourhoods who have a neighbourhood plan in place receive 25% of the receipts from the levy. This is compared to 15% for neighbourhoods that don’t have a plan. More broadly, the CIL monies are collected by the District Council as the “charging authority”. Charging authorities may pass money to bodies outside their area to deliver infrastructure that will benefit development of the area. For example, this could include the Environment Agency for flood defence, or the County Council for education infrastructure.

Status of the Neighbourhood Plan and the Local Plan A neighbourhood plan can be prepared in advance of a Local Plan. It is, however, vital for a neighbourhood planning body to work with the local planning authority to produce complementary plans. It is important to minimise any conflicts between policies in the neighbourhood plan and those in emerging Local Plans. The Neighbourhood plan should support the strategic development policies of the Local Plan. It is worth re-iterating that the key point is that having a Neighbourhood Plan gives communities protection of character and choice going forward. It is the District Council that has responsibility for the housing numbers, with neighbourhood plans giving a greater say over where these numbers might go, or what they may look like. It is vital that a Neighbourhood Plan dovetails with the Local Plan.

I hope this information is useful in providing some clarity. As ever, if there are further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Gyimah MP

Tandridge District Council – Press Release 9 Dec 16

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Tandridge District Council Press Release 9.12.16

Supreme Court throws out Oxted Residential’s appeal application

The Supreme Court has refused Oxted Residential leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision, which upheld the Council’s decision to adopt its Development Management policies and Community Infrastructure Levy.

This result vindicates the Council’s approach to planning and in particular its ability to put in place policies which protect the character of the district’s towns and restrict inappropriate development in the Green Belt.

The Supreme Court ruled “the application does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered at this time bearing in mind that the case has already been the subject of judicial decision and reviewed on appeal.”

Oxted Residential Ltd challenged the Council first in the High Court and then in the Court of Appeal, arguing the Council should not have adopted a range of policies to be used in decisions on planning applications and should not have adopted a Levy which made developers pay towards infrastructure in the district. Following the Court of Appeal’s decision in April 2016, Oxted Residential appealed to the Supreme Court.

In addition to its own court costs, Oxted Residential Ltd will have to repay all the Council’s costs incurred in defending this action, which are currently estimated to be over £130,000.

Councillor Martin Fisher, Leader of the Council, said: “We are delighted with this outcome, as it clearly shows that our approach to planning is the right one for the district. However it is disappointing we have had to use significant time and resources to defend our approach, particularly as the judges have said the challenge was based on a fatal misconception by Oxted Residential Ltd. We can now continue to make decisions which will make sure the district is a place where people want to live, work and visit. It will also ensure new development continues to make a financial contribution to infrastructure.”