A cross-party group of leading politicians have today united behind Stroud District’s draft Local Plan. The move comes after national planning inspectors suggested that it be withdrawn.
Without a Local Plan the politicians say that Stroud District risks becoming a “Wild West” for developers – which would mean homes being built without the roads, schools and infrastructure needed, and in places that are not suitable for development.
The Conservative Government’s centrally imposed housing targets require the Local Plan to earmark land to build 12,600 homes in Stroud District by 2040. The new Local Plan has been in development since 2017 to replace the existing Local Plan, which is now eight years old. The final step for the Council to gain approval for the Local Plan is an ‘Examination in Public’, which began in March this year. However, at this final stage, the Planning Inspectors have written to the District Council saying that the best way forward may be for the Local Plan to be withdrawn, stating ‘fundamental concerns’ about the impact of traffic that will be generated by proposed housing, on Junctions 12 and 14 of the M5 motorway.
National Highways, which manages the motorway network, is planning for junction upgrades but does not yet have a funding plan in place. This leaves Stroud District’s Local Plan hanging in the balance because of a cocktail of central government targets and chronic under-funding of delivery bodies for core infrastructure.
Commenting, the Leader of Stroud District Council, Cllr Catherine Braun, said:
“The new Local Plan offers protection and a vision for green spaces, homes, schools and businesses across the district – the very fabric of our communities. After years of work and engagement on this vision, it would be heartbreaking for the Plan to be withdrawn at this late stage, due to reasons that are overwhelmingly out of the District Council’s control.
“If we withdraw the Plan, we risk a ‘Wild West’ where developers will be able to sidestep our locally agreed high building standards and develop on sites without the appropriate infrastructure, meaning that homes are built for profit not people. I hope the Planning Inspectors will accept the suggestion of a pause in the examination process, to provide more time for all the partners to work together to compile the additional evidence needed for the Plan to proceed.”
The Deputy Leader of Stroud District Council, Cllr Natalie Bennett, said:
“I’m surprised and disappointed to see this suggestion from the Planning Inspectors that we should consider withdrawing our draft Local Plan. Surprised, because we have from the outset shared our commitment to play our part in working to resolve motorway junction issues, and disappointed, because of the impact that a decision to withdraw the plan would have on our communities. Ultimately new motorway junctions are for National Highways to decide and central Government to fund. Since the Tories scrapped the regional planning system in 2012 there’s been no overall strategy in place for councils to agree transport upgrades with National Highways, and this lack of a strategic plan is now putting our local area at risk.”
In response to the Planning Inspectors’ letter, the Council has proposed a six-month pause in proceedings, rather than withdrawing the Local Plan from the examination process altogether. This extra time would allow for more discussions with National Highways and other partners about motorway junction improvements and give time for other sites which won’t depend on these M5 junctions to be considered.
The Leader of the Community Independents Group, Cllr Robin Layfield, said:
“Stroud district could still deliver almost 70% of the homes needed to meet Government targets by 2040, without increasing traffic pressure on Junctions 12 and 14. The evidence also shows that even without the sites that depend on these two junctions, more than half the homes needed in the next 20 years can be delivered by 2030. This gives us enough time to find additional sites for development if needed, and allows us to meet our housebuilding targets, providing more homes and employment.”
A further option would be for the Inspectors to allow the plan to proceed but schedule an earlier review than usual. The Inspectors have also raised transport concerns about the proposed Sharpness and Wisloe sites, which could similarly be addressed during the pause in the Examination process.
The Local Plan aims to boost the biodiversity, local climate adaptation and mitigation efforts and countryside conservation actions that sits alongside the District’s built environment.
The Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Ken Tucker, said:
“Extra time is needed to ensure that we do not lose the benefits set out in the draft Local Plan. This is not only about the allocation of sites for homes and jobs, but also for redevelopment of brownfield sites, and new climate and nature friendly building standards so we can play our part in addressing the environmental crisis. The Local Plan is a key policy document to deliver on our 2030 climate and nature strategy.
We recognise that not all communities will welcome new developments, but if we don’t effectively plan to meet government housing targets, we lose control over where these housing developments come forward. The new Local Plan is essential to protect our communities and green spaces, conserving the character of our beautiful local area.”
The Council’s press release, also issued today, calling for a short pause in the Local Plan process, can be read here.
You can read Stroud District Council’s full response to the Planning Inspectors here:
Cllr Braun is pictured (right) with deputy leader, Cllr Bennett.