Why it is so important for Rutland to have a local plan by Rutland County Council leader Oliver Hemsley
Rutland County Council's leader Oliver Hemsley (Con) outlines why having a local plan is so important ahead of a meeting to discuss withdrawing the one that has been prepared:
Rutland’s local plan has been the subject of much discussion since the plan-making process first began in 2015. Six years on from the initial ‘issues and options’ stage, councillors will hold a special meeting about the plan next week. The decision we are being asked to consider will have far-reaching consequences for our county.
The importance of having a valid local plan can’t be understated. It provides the basis for a considered and strategic approach to housing, employment and other forms of development, as well as governing planning applications and wider planning matters. For this reason and ahead of next week’s special council meeting, it’s important to understand how we’ve arrived at this point, what councillors are being asked to consider and what the impact of any decision is likely to be.
Local plans must cover at least 15 years to provide local planning authorities with a long term strategy. They take many years to prepare. Work on Rutland’s draft local plan was already well underway when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced its intention to vacate St George’s Barracks and use this land for housing.
This meant the council needed to consider the implications of the site’s closure as part of its local plan process, leading to focussed consultations around additional sites for development, plus a tailored consultation on the implications of having a new garden community at St George’s. Rutland’s pre-submission local plan was approved for final Regulation 19 consultation by full council in February 2020 and then submitted for independent examination in February 2021. St George’s Barracks was included in the draft local plan on the basis that Rutland had been awarded £29.4m of Housing Infrastructure Funding (HIF) to make the site viable.
In March 2021, council decided not to accept the £29.4m HIF grant from Homes England to pay for critical infrastructure around St George’s Barracks. Without this grant, or another source of funding, there isn’t enough evidence to show a new garden community at St George’s would be deliverable. This, in turn, undermines Rutland’s wider development strategy and means the local plan can’t meet the important test of soundness. For this reason, the council is being advised to withdraw its submitted local plan from examination and start again.
There will be a number of consequences if council decides to withdraw thelocal plan. It will leave Rutland without an up-to-date policy framework to meet its development needs. Rutland’s existing strategies and policies are becoming dated and will carry minimal weight when deciding future planning applications in the absence of a new local plan. Without a local plan, the county’s assessed housing supply will also fall below the level required for a five-year period. This will make Rutland vulnerable to unplanned, ad-hoc development, which may not deliver the benefits or infrastructure achievable through planned growth.
The implication for St George’s Barracks is that there will no longer be a policy basis for its redevelopment. The site is still part of the MoD’s estate disposal programme and is scheduled to be vacated in 2024. The MoD owns this land and will be considering its options. These could include temporary or alternative uses, selling the site, or bringing forward a new scheme as part of the process of making a new local plan.
If the local plan is withdrawn, we will need to prepare a new one as quickly as possible. However, it’s anticipated this will take around four years. The council would also need to set aside almost £1.4m to cover the cost of making a new plan and operating without one during this period.
Under our constitution, council could choose to revisit its decision not to accept the £29.4m HIF grant, which has made the St George’s garden community unviable and undermined the submitted local plan. Homes England has confirmed this remains an option and that it would be willing to extend the spend deadline for HIF to March 2025. However, all parties (Homes England, the council and MoD) would have to commit to contractual obligations.
These are some but not all of the considerations in front of councillors. I would encourage everyone to read the full report and supporting documents that have been published online in advance of the meeting on Wednesday, September 1 at: www.rutland.gov.uk/meetings.
Rutland’s current local plan runs out in 2026 and we must consider if we want to continue with the emerging local plan or start again. Come next week, all councillors need to make an informed decision as part of the democratic process that has brought us to this point. It is not about individuals or any single group. It is about the whole of Rutland and protecting and enhancing the county for future generations.
Ultimately, if we do go down the path of making a new local plan, this will need to be done positively, for the benefit of Rutland, and with a full understanding of the consequences.