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Agenda item

Local Development Scheme

At its meeting on 12 July 2023, the Executive Committee considered the Local Development Scheme for Tewkesbury Borough and RECOMMENDED TO COUNCIL that it be adopted to take immediate effect and that authority be delegated to the Associate Director for Planning, in consultation with the Lead Member for the Built Environment, to prepare the Local Development Scheme for publication correcting any minor errors such as spelling, grammar, typological and formatting changes that do not affect its substantive content.


43.1          At its meeting on 12 July 2023, the Executive Committee considered the Local Development Scheme for Tewkesbury Borough and recommended to Council that it be adopted and take immediate effect; and that authority be delegated to the Associate Director: Planning, in consultation with the Lead Member for Built Environment, to prepare the Local Development Scheme for publication, correcting any minor errors such as spelling, grammar, typological and formatting changes that do not affect its substantive content.

43.2          The report which was considered by the Executive Committee had been circulated with the Agenda for the current meeting at Pages No.10-18. 

43.3          The Lead Member for Built Environment proposed the recommendation of the Executive Committee and it was seconded by the Leader of the Council as Chair of the Executive Committee.  The Lead Member for Built Environment advised that all local planning authorities were required to prepare and keep up to date a Local Development Scheme (LDS).  The LDS set out what development plan documents the Council was intending to prepare in the coming three year period and the proposed timetable for doing so.  It was therefore an important way for communities and developers to keep track of progress on plan-making.  As Members would be aware, local plans were vital in setting a vision for growth, co-ordinating infrastructure and protecting the environment and there were real consequences of not having an up-to-date plan under the National Planning Policy Framework.  It was vitally important that the Council update, or replace, the Joint Core Strategy as quickly as possible given that it was already overdue.  She indicated that Tewkesbury Borough Council already had an LDS which was adopted around 15 months ago and set out a commitment to prepare a Joint Strategic Plan with Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils to replace the Joint Core Strategy which was adopted in 2017; however, it had been recognised for some time that it was necessary to re-think the approach and resources required to replace the Joint Core Strategy – discussions over many months had recognised that the cycle of preparing strategic plans followed by district local plans, each of which was subject to independent examination by the government, was both costly and time-consuming.  On that basis, the report was proposing a revised LDS setting out a new way of approaching the task with the three councils moving to collaboratively preparing a single plan containing both strategic and non-strategic policies.  This would have several advantages, as set out in the report - principally, it was the most effective way of discharging the statutory duty to co-operate as well as saving time and money in terms of being able to hold a single public examination in front of the Planning Inspectorate.  The Lead Member indicated that she was instinctively cautious about the approach and she was sure Members would agree it was vital that policies governing approaches to development in Tewkesbury town, the beautiful villages and rural areas should remain the discretion of Tewkesbury Borough Council and not get lost amongst a wider more general plan; however, that principle was also important to Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils and she was reassured that Tewkesbury Borough Council’s “sovereignty” to draw up district or locality based policies could be underwritten through a formal partnership agreement.  Although it would technically be a single plan, the three authorities would only come together to reach joint agreement on strategic matters where it was necessary to do so, principally on housing and economic growth strategies.  There was a clear understanding that no Council would seek to fetter the work of the other councils and, for all practical purposes, there would be three plans with one examination; Tewkesbury Borough Council would also retain complete discretion for preparing any Supplementary Planning Documents and other local guidance thought necessary, as would Parish Councils with respect to preparing Neighbourhood Plans.  The proposed LDS at Appendix 1 to the report, taken together with the next item on the Agenda concerning resources, set out a realistic and ambitious project programme for preparing a plan and it was proposed that, following confirmation of the approach, initial public consultation on growth and policy options should take place in the autumn of 2023, as set out in the document.  The Lead Member was mindful of the huge uncertainties around the government’s various proposed reforms to the planning system, and plan-making in particular; however, she felt that Tewkesbury Borough Council could not afford to wait and must press on without delay.  She was pleased to report that the Planning Advisory Service had agreed to offer advice and support to the three councils and act as a conduit with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) as they navigated the coming months; she felt this was recognition from afar of just how important joined-up planning was to the Gloucestershire area and beyond.  The Chair of the Executive Committee recognised the need for a new plan and, for the many reasons raised by the Lead Member, he believed a joint approach was the right one – it would be the best way for the Council to fulfil the duty to co-operate whilst taking advantage of efficiencies and having the ability to influence neighbouring authorities.  He realised Members would be wary due to the previous joint approach which had not benefited Tewkesbury Borough Council but assured them that lessons had been learned from that way of working and the proposal before Members would ensure that the three authorities could reach a consensus. 

43.4          A Member noted that the previous joint plan had left Tewkesbury Borough Council in a position where it did not have a five year housing land supply and he asked what would make the new joint scheme different.  In response, the Lead Member for Built Environment expressed the view that it would be foolish to ignore what had happened in the past and she explained that the next Agenda Item made a recommendation regarding resources for preparation of a development plan for the borough and the Chief Executive would be chair of the board overseeing the LDS.  She pointed out that the timescale for delivery was tight so it was important to make a decision on the approach and she felt this was by far the best way forward.  Another Member expressed the view that Tewkesbury Borough Council had historically been the ‘poor relation’ and, whilst she noted the Chief Executive would be chairing the board, she sought clarification as to who else would be on the board and whether membership was equal across the three authorities.  In response, the Chief Executive explained that the board comprised the Leaders and Chief Executives of the three district authorities and the County Council.  As well as chairing the board, he was the Senior Responsible Officer for the programme.  There would be a dedicated team to deliver the LDS which would include staff from all three districts as well as contractors, such as the Interim Planning Policy Manager, who would be working on the programme and recruiting into the team.  When the LDS was adopted and in place, there would be a development management process of early engagement with developers to bring sites forward to ensure the housing land supply could be maintained.  In the past there had been a disparate team, with a focus on individual plans to the detriment of the strategic plan, and it was crucial to ensure there was strategic capacity to produce and manage in the new plan.  The Member indicated that the issues with recruitment and retention to planning posts within Tewkesbury Borough Council were well documented and she assumed this was also a problem for Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils so asked what would be done to recruit to the team and if they would be siloed or working within the existing planning team.  The Chief Executive advised that, subject to Council approval, there was a commitment by all three authorities to provide funding for a new resource to deliver the LDS.  The Planning Advisory Service was also giving its support with DLUHC behind them.  A joint LDS offered a more exciting challenge, working over a larger more diverse geographical area in comparison to a district plan, which would be more attractive in terms of recruitment.  Whilst there would be cross-overs with the planning team, it would be a dedicated resource so Officers would not be called away to carry out other tasks.  He recognised this was a bold approach - Tewkesbury Borough had experienced a lot of growth so there was now an opportunity to challenge the growth assumptions and focus the plan around the climate change agenda, health and wellbeing etc. rather than purely delivering housing numbers in order to achieve a better outcome, subject to the right resources being in place and the three authorities working together.  He stressed that there must be consensus among authorities and there would be no ability to impose; when the Tewkesbury Borough Plan was refreshed, the policies would be directed by this authority alone.  In his view, this was the best opportunity to secure an outcome which would protect and enhance the borough.

43.5          A Member noted that the Regulation 18 consultation would be between October and March and she asked whether consideration was being given to a hierarchy for smaller villages; when the small, non-strategic sites would be consulted upon, and how much work had been done so far; and whether the spatial options for October 2023 would include the Garden Town area.  In response, the Interim Planning Policy Manager explained that focus was on autumn consultation and the first Regulation 18 was a broad question about the type of locations that should be considered for large scale growth; it would not be as specific as looking at the existing hierarchy of rural villages; the smaller, non-strategic sites were informed by a call for sites process.  Officers were almost at the point of engaging with the Planning Policy Reference Panel, and the wider Membership, in relation to Regulation 18 and two of the initial questions that would be addressed were around the appropriate level of growth for the whole of the Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury area, its economic ambitions and the implications of that, as well as the sort of locations which ought to accommodate the growth.  In terms of the potential options available, one was the emerging concept for the Garden Town in Tewkesbury which would very much feature in the Regulation 18 consultation.  The Member indicated that, when the last Regulation 18 was done for the Joint Core Strategy one of the criticisms from residents was that the questions had been too technical and she asked if that could be addressed in the forthcoming consultation.  In response, the Interim Planning Policy Manager confirmed it would be taken into consideration; every consultation included developers and professionals in order for them to have their say as to how the plan should shape up but, equally, it was also for residents and Parish Councils who had an interest in growth and it was for Officers to ensure the information was understandable to those who were not well-versed in planning.  It was difficult considering the subject matter was guided by statutory procedures and technical information but it was incumbent upon the authorities to make the consultation as transparent and engaging as possible and they would certainly endeavour to do that.  Another Member echoed the comments regarding the confusing subject matter and felt that lessons could be learnt from the Garden Town to ensure there was appropriate communication and engagement with those who lived and worked in the borough and would be fearful of Tewkesbury Borough being the ‘poor relation’ once again.  The Leader of the Council agreed that communication was vital and Members had an important part to play in bridging the gap between the technical planning detail and residents.

43.6          A Member pointed out that there were other district authorities within Gloucestershire and he questioned why Tewkesbury Borough Council was working with Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils as opposed to any of the others and if other ideas had been explored in that regard.  He also asked how Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils were co-operating with other districts.  In response, the Leader of the Council explained that people may live in Tewkesbury Borough but often worked and shopped in other places, and vice-versa, so it was necessary to look at the area in a holistic way.  Conversations had taken place with both Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils regarding what could be done to meet their housing needs and Cheltenham Borough Council was looking at the brownfield sites within its area; however, it would still be necessary to look beyond their boundaries to meet their needs.  Stroud, Cotswold and Forest of Dean District Councils also had a duty to co-operate so they would need to co-operate with Cheltenham, Gloucester and Tewkesbury Borough Councils as well – he stressed that working jointly did not mean doing everything for other authorities and it would be an opportunity to hold them to account to undertake things they may not otherwise do, for example, urban capacity studies were not a requirement but, as part of the joint agreement, Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils would have to update them.  He confirmed that the duty to co-operate was not just between Cheltenham Borough, Gloucester City and Tewkesbury Borough Councils so the three authorities also needed to co-operate with other district authorities – the duty to co-operate was not unique to Gloucestershire and was a requirement of all local authorities across the country and would be something the Inspector would be expecting to see in the plan.

43.7          During the debate which ensued, a Member felt it was right to be wary given the history with the Joint Core Strategy and the policies within that and advice had been given that Tewkesbury Borough Council could not go it alone; however, Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils were looking at massive urban extensions into Tewkesbury Borough’s greenfields.  He was pleased to hear that Cheltenham Borough Council was committed to identifying brownfield sites but made reference to the North Place/Portland Street project which had received £3m government funding yet Cheltenham Borough Council had not gone ahead and the brownfield site remained empty.  There were significant concerns regarding joint working and, in his view, it could greenlight urban extensions which would be to the detriment of Tewkesbury Borough.  Another Member indicated that one of the main issues was the lack of a five year housing land supply.  As they would be working as a consensus of three Councils, as opposed to three all working for their individual benefits as in the Joint Core Strategy previously, she questioned whether the housing requirements were combined.  Currently, Tewkesbury Borough had available land which would benefit Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City Councils so, unfortunately, it would be Tewkesbury Borough that shouldered the burden.  A Member understood the financial case for a joint approach but he was concerned in terms of getting the right outcomes for Tewkesbury Borough residents.  Tewkesbury Borough was the fastest growing region in the southwest and the Joint Core Strategy had left it with a 2.5/3 year housing land supply.  The point had been made that Tewkesbury Borough Council had the most land, which put it in a strong position, and his view was that it should have a plan of its own.  The Lead Member for Built Environment understood the concerns raised and recognised the importance of securing and maintaining a five year housing land supply; in her view, this was the best opportunity to achieve that and, if it remained on track, it would be completed by 2025 which would be the best outcome for residents.  As such, she strongly recommended that Members vote in favour of the proposal.

43.8          Upon being put to the vote, it was

RESOLVED           1. That the Local Development Scheme for Tewkesbury Borough (Appendix 1) be ADOPTED and take immediate effect.

2. That authority be delegated to the Associate Director for Planning, in consultation with the Lead Member for the Built Environment, to prepare the Local Development Scheme for publication, correcting any minor errors such as spelling, grammar, typological and formatting changes that did not affect its substantive content.

Supporting documents: