Consultation on the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan is under way. However, even before the plan went public, opposition had already started to be voiced by local residents in the Lincoln fringe, and beyond.
I should perhaps explain that, as a West Lindsey district councillor, the council is the planning authority for our local area; and that I sit on the Planning Committee. The committee determines only a small number of the total applications made to the authority. Most applications are small in nature, or not controversial, and are determined under powers delegated to the council’s officers.
With the Government’s implementation of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) which requires planning applications to be approved where, on balance, three key sustainability tests are met, local residents have been particularly concerned at the number of applications that developers have been submitting to planning authorities across the county for new homes. A gap between existing policies and the adoption of new policies in the near future has left developers with the opportunity to reduce the liability they could incur in the future known as the Community Infrastructure Levy – a contribution they make to assist in improving local infrastructure and sustainability.
A number of years before I was elected to the council a decision was made that it would save money and be efficient to deliver a single plan for local development by working in partnership. The Central Lincolnshire Local Planning Partnership is underpinned by statute and the three district authorities – West Lindsey, North Kesteven and Lincoln City councils, with Lincolnshire County Council are working together to shape our communities in a positive way, for the two decades from 2016 – 2036.
Opposition to this local plan can be understood, but calls to break-up this partnership are coming too late in the day. In 2016 the Local Plan is expected to be an adopted document, by which time decision makers, like myself, who are required to judge the merits or otherwise of proposed development, will use it as our main tool to get the results local people want. This is timely because the saved policies which are still active within the West Lindsey Local Plan 2006 will expire. If we don’t act now planning applications will only be able to be determined by reference to the NPPF. Local decisions will only be taken in accordance with national policy. I am sure I am not alone in finding that idea unacceptable.
There is much that marks Lincolnshire out as special. In West Lindsey the Wolds, the cliff top and our gently undulating countryside beneath the big skies are characteristics, worthy of protection, from unsuitable development. But those campaigning to break-up the Central Lincolnshire Local Planning Partnership are only working against the interests of local people. They propose a West Lindsey Local Plan, developed locally. They forget that this would require the recruitment of specialist planning officers, the collation of evidence and the drafting of such a plan, long before it would reach the stage the Central Lincolnshire plan is at now; that of public consultation. It could set progress back on securing and protecting our towns, villages and countryside by at least twelve months or even two years. In which time the saved policies would be defunct. The shield that has allowed the West Lindsey District Council Planning Committee to defend villages like Bardney, Saxilby, Nettleham, Welton and many others from unsuitable housing development would be gone. The reasons for refusing the wind farm scheme at Hemswell would not have been able to be made. In short the decisions that local residents sought – and were able to obtain – would be unimaginable.
Those in opposition to the Central Lincolnshire Local Planning Partnership forget that whilst its creation required the accord of the local councils, it is established under secondary legislation. There is no evidence to date – and I have enquired of the relevant minister – that the government would be prepared to repeal the statute.
Then there is the matter of cost. Local Government is doing more than any other organ of the state to help return the public finances to good order, healing the seeping wound of the deficit caused by Labour’s Great Recession and reckless spending. Not all the money raised by local councils comes from Council Taxpayers. The three main sources of income are: money in the form of central government grants, council tax and receipts for services. At West Lindsey we get about £200 from the average Band D Council Taxpayer (who pays around £1,650 per annum). The cost of an individual West Lindsey Local Plan has been estimated at over a quarter of a million pounds at the end of last year. But time is not now on our side to change course, and the cost could well exceed a third of a million a year. To put those figures in perspective, that would be asking the authority to raise the Council Tax by between 4%-6%. This would require a referendum to be held to secure for this additional tax to be collected. Adding additional cost and delay to securing a Local Plan. There can be no certainty that the majority of residents would back such an increase. In turn that could cause both a black hole in the council’s finances and a whirlwind which would damage the delivery of a local plan.
I am calling on the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan Partnership to look again at the apportionment of the Housing Supply figure. We are required to have in hand a five-year supply of land coming on stream to develop housing. Before the Central Lincolnshire Local Planning Partnership the West Lindsey district had a seven year supply. Today the figure is less than five years, because the surpluses in West Lindsey and North Kesteven have been obliterated by a deficit in the City of Lincoln. We need to find a way to restore the district level figures and correct this unfairness. I have spoken to the Leader of West Lindsey District Council, Cllr. Jeff Summers, who is a member of the Central Lincolnshire Local Planning Partnership and I am confident that work will be undertaken to resolve this anomaly. This is surely a more surgical approach than the blunt, slash and burn, technique of others? And it is far more likely to deliver the result people want.
I believe that what we need is policies that protect those aspects of our communities that we cherish, encourage appropriate development in the right places – to build strong, sustainable, communities – we need to secure our environment so that our children and their children will live in the world we would wish to bequeath to them.
The challenge is how we take the necessary steps to deliver this. Those opposing the Central Lincolnshire Local Planning Partnership should instead engage rather than oppose. Take part in the consultation. Give their views. Tell us what they like, what they hate, what is wrong and what should be done as an alternative. It is our local plan. A plan that by working together we can and we will achieve so much, more than by working alone.
I know that my words will not be welcomed by some of those campaigning for the risky proposition of a district level local plan. Hindsight provides an excellent prism for us to consider the actions of the past. Perhaps if we knew now what we did not know then we might find ourselves on a very different course. We are where we are. I will not flinch in the face of doing my upmost best to secure, preserve and enhance our local communities for the future. But be in no doubt; the Central Lincolnshire Local Plan is the only viable option for enhancing, preserving and securing our communities; by putting in place the right policies before time runs out.