So why are we where we are today? Why all this unplanned development?
A fundamental requirement of government planning policy is that Council must demonstrate a 5-year housing supply. However, at the end of September 2021, the number of houses that Rutland had in the pipeline compared to the number required by the government for Rutland to build stood at only 3.5 years.
Updated figures are expected shortly, but despite the Planning Committee having approved a significant number of new homes, many will not be contributing to the housing supply until the Sect 106 agreements have been completed. This is because the Sect 106 agreements ensure the delivery of affordable homes, and whilst we wait for the Sect 106 agreements to be completed, the door is left wide open to even more speculative planning applications.
So how did we get to this?
We know it is like the “wild west” out there, with developers seeming to be able to build at will. Something we at Together4Rutland find abhorrent, but in so many ways, our hands are tied.
While the Local Plan, which Council had approved in 2020, was not universally popular, it did provide a strategy for new homes to be delivered across the whole County, with a significant proportion being built at St George’s Barracks between Edith Weston and North Luffenham.
The sites selected were the subject of a detailed analysis not just by our Council Officers but also by independent experts. This included St George’s and Woolfox sites. Details of that analysis can be found at https://www.rutland.gov.uk/my-services/planning-and-building-control/planning/local-plan-examination-library/. Woolfox was assessed as not being viable.
For the Local Plan to have been deliverable, it required the £29m of funding from the government to support the development at the St George’s site, the HIF money (Housing Infrastructure Fund)
Because Council rejected the HIF money, the Council was left with no choice but to withdraw the Local Plan from the examination. We now have developers clamouring to have their sites approved, and we cannot roll back to the withdrawn Local Plan as many sites are now not available for development and the evidence base is out of date.
The timeline to Dodge City?
- Between 2015/16 and 2020/21, the Council spent £1,193,000 on the Local Plan that has now been withdrawn.
- The estimated cost of a new local plan is at least £1,395,000 to be spent between now and 2025
In March 2021, Rutland County Council voted against accepting the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) of £29.2 million to deliver critical infrastructure like improved roads, transport, schools and healthcare, which are required to meet the needs of the St George’s Garden Village Project.
The St George’s Garden Village project was not viable without the HIF money. Therefore, due to the decision not to accept the HIF grant, the Local Plan was not valid.
It is not without good reason to think the MoD will still develop this site as they HAVE to be seen to get value from their assets.
- As a result of the decision to withdraw the Local Plan, and the lack of the 5-year housing supply, the County is now required under government requirements to automatically approve all new housing planning applications unless “any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits when assessed against the policies in National Planning Policy Framework taken as a whole. This is the so-called “tilted balance” in favour of development
While some of the sites which were proposed in the withdrawn Local Plan may proceed, the County will be vulnerable to the approval of unplanned, ad-hoc development, which may not deliver the benefits or infrastructure achievable through planned growth in accordance with an up-to-date plan.
Of course, we can refuse all of these speculative applications, but there is a high probability that an inspector will overturn on appeal.
If the Secretary of State believes that we are losing too many of these appeals, he can remove our decision-making ability on all planning applications and leave it to a group of government officials to make those decisions.
So, what was the St George’s Garden Village project?
The St George’s Garden Village project was an initiative between Rutland County Council, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and other local partners to look at possible options for the future of St George’s Barracks after the base closes.
The St George’s Garden Village masterplan offered a Garden Village that will enhance the natural charms of our County and promised high-quality, affordable homes and locally accessible work in beautiful, healthy and sociable communities.
Why is the Local plan important, and what does it have to do with the HIF money?
Councils must normally determine planning applications in line with their Local Plan. Rejection of the HIF grant means that the proposed Local Plan was not valid and was withdrawn after a vote of the full Council.
The impact of this was that planning applications would be assessed against the “tilted balance” test of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and then thereafter, the Rutland Core Strategy adopted in 2011 and the Site Allocations Policy adopted in 2014, where these did not disagree with the NPPF
The Council has already started to prepare a new Local Plan with a call for sites from developers and landowners. These sites will be assessed against a set of criteria resulting in the new spatial strategy which will be brought forward to residents for consultation.
The drawing up of a new Local Plan will involve considerable expense when the Council’s Forecast Budget for next year shows a deficit of £2.6 million of reserves. Rejecting the HIF grant adds significant cost pressures that could have been avoided.
What were the risks of accepting the HIF grant?
RCC negotiated a legal document called the Allocation Agreement which removed all the development risks from the Council. This agreement meant that the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), the estate expert for the Ministry of Defence, was responsible for all the risks associated with developing a site and delivering hew homes, whether cost overruns, contamination, additional roadworks, etc.
The Allocation Agreement would have protected the Council’s interests and restricted our liabilities to the normal planning processes and an administrative function for handling the HIF cash.
Part of the HIF money, £110k, which could have been claimed was to contribute to Council’s legal costs. This, of course, is no longer available
So why did some councillors vote against the HIF grant and the Local Plan?
Together4Rutland would encourage you to ask those Councillors who voted against accepting the HIF grant the following questions:
Why did they vote for uncontrolled development?
Why did they vote for additional budget pressures when RCC may need to use £2.6 million of reserves to balance the books and the risk of losing services?
Why are they against high-quality, affordable homes and locally accessible work in beautiful, healthy, and sociable communities?
Why is it acceptable to have unplanned development in other green spaces when SGB was a proven brownfield site which would have delivered a new school, medical facilities, sports facilities, and a large country park?
Did your Ward Councillor consult and advise of the consequences of their vote?
For information about the debate and voting about the HIF on 22nd March 2021 follow this link https://rutlandcounty.moderngov.co.uk/mgAi.aspx?ID=13717
And for information about the debate and voting on the Local Plan on 1st September 2021 follow this link