Local Plan Examination in Public Hearing Report
The Hart Local Plan Examination In Public (EIP) hearing concluded on 18 December after 10 days of sittings, 2 more than originally scheduled due to some matters overrunning the schedule.
The purpose of the hearing was for a designated Planning Inspector, Jonathon Manning BSc (Hons) MA MRTPI, to determine whether the Local Plan is sound by both questioning Hart DC and hearing evidence from any party who believed the plan should be changed. The agenda was set by the Planning Inspector from his reading of the plan and all the submissions made to the Regulation 19 Consultation held in February / March.
The Planning Inspector opened the examination by stating that he could make one of the following three recommendations:
- The submitted Plan is sound
- The submitted Plan is not sound but could be made sound by changes (known as main modifications), following additional work
- The submitted Plan is not sound and could not be made sound by changes.
He added that he did not know of a Local Plan that had achieved the first recommendation.
The first outcome would result in the plan being submitted to the Secretary of State for consideration for approval. The second outcome would result in Hart having to do further work on the Plan before resubmitting to the Inspector. The third outcome would result in Hart having to start again on the plan.
Throughout the examination the issue of the possible new settlement repeatedly came up. Its necessity in terms of housing need, providing a new secondary school and sustainability were argued. The vested interests of the developers proposing sites for the new settlement, potentially affected residents groups and developers wanting to build on other sites instead such as West of Hook were very apparent in the arguments.
The Planning Inspector is now considering the evidence given at the hearing. He will issue a response to the council probably in February 2019 highlighting agreed points and issues, He stated that the following were the main areas in his considerations:
- Housing need
- Area of search for new settlement
His full adjudication will be issued in a report some time in 2019.
Throughout the hearing and in the closing statement the Planning Inspector gave little indication as to whether he agreed or disagreed with statements being made. Hence it is not possible to give an opinion on the likely outcome of the examination.
There was an exception with respect to the policy of defining local gaps such as between Hook and Newnham. It was argued that the landscape policies covered this issue and hence the policy was not necessary. The Planning Inspector was not convinced by Hart’s arguments for including the policy and Hart withdrew it.
This is obviously not good news with respect to the West of Hook appeal. It is much easier to oppose the appeal with a policy that clearly states that there should be a gap than with a policy that refers to landscape quality. However it is hoped that the Planning Inspector will respond to Hart before the appeal in March and that he will indicate that he agrees the defined housing need thereby making West of Hook unnecessary to achieve Hart’s housing requirement.
The Hearing in More Detail
HAAO submitted a detailed response to the Regulation 19 Consultation. As this fully supported the plan, not proposing any changes, HAAO was not required to take part in any of the hearing sessions. However HAAO attended on the days that had implications for Hook and relevant aspects are reported below.
Each hearing session considered a section of the Local Plan. The Inspector, Hart DC and all parties requesting changes to that section sat at tables in a square, The number of parties requesting change varied, the maximum being 16. Their representation also varied, one was led by a QC with a junior and two assistants.
At each session the Inspector asked Hart to outline the relevant section of the Local Plan. He asked questions and then invited the other parties to put their arguments for change before asking Hart to respond. Much of the discussion was very predictable with parties promoting changes to meet their own interests. Significant discussions for Hook are summarised below. A much more comprehensive description with day by day accounts is available on the FaceIt website at:
The generation of the plan must be in accordance with the legal requirements. The version submitted in 2012 failed because Hart was deemed not to have consulted with neighbouring and other authorities. At this hearing it was similarly suggested that various activities had not be undertaken. However it was established that the criticism was that they had not been done very well. The Inspector clarified that the legal issue was whether they had been done and their adequacy would be covered at later sessions. Following this clarification no deviations from the legal requirements were identified.
The plan requires an average of 388 new dwellings to be built each year. Hart argued that it had followed the changing Government guidelines. Developers argued that the figure should be larger to meet affordable housing requirements and unmet need in neighbouring areas, in particular Surrey Heath which has fallen behind in its house building. Opponents of a new settlement argued the figure should be smaller
Hart promoted the new settlement as a forward thinking long term project. Opponents argued strongly that there was a lack of evidence that it was deliverable and that it conflicted Winchfield Neighbourhood Plan. Developers whose sites are not included in the Local Plan such as West of Hook, Hop Garden and Varndell Road in Hook and Pale Lane in Fleet argued that the ranking of sites suitability was flawed, more sites were needed and that their sites were available now.
Hart DC argued that a new settlement would provide a site for a new secondary school. However neither Hart nor HCC produced a very convincing argument that it was needed.
Economic Development, Town Centre and Retail
Developers who wanted to convert more offices into dwellings such as at Bartley Wood questioned Hart’s policies and their consistency with national policy.
Rural Hart Association, a relatively new group chaired by a Winchfield resident, proposed that the shops in the centre of Fleet be replaced by new shops with multi-storey accommodation above. They argued that the considerable increased number of people living in the heart of Fleet would revitalise the town centre and negate the need for a new settlement. Hart countered that this was not achievable as the owners of the sites had not expressed any interest in having them redeveloped.
We Heart Hart and some developers argued that there were insufficient funds identified in the Infrastructure Delivery Plan to meet the identified requirements and that some items were not costed. Hart agreed to include in the plan details of sources of revenue to meet the funding gap. Hart also stated that all infrastructure providers had been consulted on the necessary infrastructure and its costs and agreement reached with them. However it was an iterative progress and the results would be refined as the plan progressed.
WeHeartHart stated that no infrastructure costs for the new settlement were included and quoted their estimate of £200 million rising to £300 million if a new motorway junction is necessary. Hart stated that this was not yet an established development and the proposed studies for a suitable site over the area of search would identify requirements and costs.
Gaps Between Settlements
Policy NBE2 identifies gaps between settlements to prevent coalescence. These include the Hook / Newnham gap. Developers argued that the policy was not necessary as others policies such as NBE1 on landscape covered the issue. The Inspector queried why the gap boundaries were not definitive. Hart responded that initial work had identified where the gaps should be but further work was needed to exactly define their boundaries. Hart concede that not all the evidence supporting the initial work had been submitted to the inquiry. The inspector suggested and Hart agreed to remove NBE2 from the plan, However it was agreed that NBE1 could be modified to include coalescence issues.
Developers argued that dwellings would not be built at the rates predicted and hence more sites were necessary to achieve the required numbers in the plan period. Much of the argument was about the 1500 dwellings at Hartland Village. Its developer argued that as sole developer for the site the dwellings would be built faster than if he invited other developers to tender for and then build on parts of the site. Other developers took the opposite view.
Sustainability is a major factor in determining where to locate new houses. Developers suggested that there were deficiencies in the Sustainability Assessment, in particular with respect to sites they were promoting. Rural Hart Association advocated the redevelopment of Fleet as the most sustainable solution.