Plans to be considered for full council meeting before July
- Credit: Katy Sandalls
Concerns have been raised over the level of public scrutiny available at a Suffolk authority, as a result of a planned five month wait between meetings as a result of coronavirus.
Further queries have been raised over the lack of public opportunity to debate a key plan which will inform future housing developments in Mid Suffolk and Babergh.
Rachel Eburne, Mid Suffolk District Council Green group leader questioned the Conservative and Independent administration during Monday’s cabinet meeting on whether it would be feasible to have a full council meeting before July, to prevent a lengthy five month gap between meetings.
MORE: Nearly 18,000 new homes needed by 2036 in Babergh and Mid SuffolkShe said: “Under normal situations you have to get special dispensation if you go for six months without attending a council meeting.
“This means that some councillors will be at risk if they are not able to attend the July meeting.
“More importantly, there are very few public occasions at which we can ask unconditional questions of the administration – and at this critical time this is not supportive of a healthy democratic process.
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“With regards to the draft joint local plan, there has been an ongoing working group between council officers and members but, again, nothing in public.
“The lack of a joint local plan is often cited as a reason to approve locally controversial planning applications and it is therefore even more vital that we can get some public discussion on this soon.”
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The original timetable had been for the joint local plan – which effectively helps determine land suitable for future development – to be adopted in February.
It is a crucial document as it means the council has greater control over developments, and can block speculative or unsustainable developments much more easily.
Around 17,500 new homes are needed across the two districts by 2036, according to drafts of the new plan.
Conservative council leader Suzie Morley said the authority would consider an earlier virtual full council meeting than July if it was able to hold one.
On the joint local plan, Councillor David Burn, Conservative cabinet member for planning added: “Progress is being made on the joint local plan.
“There is current uncertainty on the timescales and impacts of Covid-19, however we will aim to bring a new local development scheme to the council meeting in July 2020.
“It may or may not be possible to bring a revised scheme before July.”
Council officers confirmed that councillors could attend virtual committee meetings such as cabinet or planning to ensure that they did attend the mandatory six month appearances.
Work on the joint local plan is continuing, but is not likely to be in a position to be adopted before 2021.
Analysis: What is a local plan and why is it important?
A local plan, which in the case of Babergh and Mid Suffolk district councils will be a joint blueprint, is effectively a future development map.
It allocates sites deemed suitable for housing, but also indicates the need for future infrastructure needed such as roads, bus routes, schools and health centres.
The existing plan is out of date which means that, under planning law, authorities are required to give more weight in favour of approving applications in order to meet housing demand.
It means that some developers can attempt to force through new builds in areas where it may not be considered sustainable or appropriate.
It also means that in cases where planning permission is refused, it is much more likely that developers will appeal to the Planning Inspectorate for the decision to be overturned and permission granted – a process which can be time-consuming and costly for council legal teams.
Having a five year land supply and a fully adopted local plan means that the districts have essentially mapped out a sustainable future which means that developments considered unsustainable can be rejected. It gives authorities a greater degree of control in ensuring that developments meet the needs of the community they are being built in and with the necessary infrastructure improvements.
For certain communities this is crucial – particularly in areas which are considered attractive for development. Some areas are already facing the prospect of doubling in size.