We are now at the stage where we need to agree on our Local plan – the blueprint for the next 15 years of development and employment decisions.
As a reminder, we need to find space for about 31,000 homes and enough development land to sustain the thriving economy we all want to see. Having a plan is not a choice – government tells us we must have one in place, and they are also the referee on whether our plan is acceptable – or sound.
Which is why we have a problem come the council meetings next week, because what is acceptable to government may not be acceptable to local residents, businesses or councillors or any of our MPs. But without a sound plan – however politically difficult that is – we lose all control of the process.
So where should local residents make their views known? If they come to council, we still have to agree a plan that is sound before one that is politically united.
I think therefore that the best place for them to make representations is to the planning inspector themselves.
Cabinet will receive an officer document on the basis that this is a sound plan, one which we believe will be found to be sound by the Planning Inspectorate.
It is really important that the plan is found to be sound because if we are in a position where there is no plan at all, the Secretary of State would intervene and impose a plan on us.
If no plan is in place, we would have much less control over planning processes, so it would be difficult if not impossible to safeguard our urban greenspace or our green belt. That would continue to be at risk. We have already lost almost all control over “provisional open land”.
The test is of soundness in relation to planning law and guidelines as set by national government rather than political acceptance.
The process allows for people to make representations to the Planning Inspectorate. I believe that people should come forward to make objections or support applications at that stage where they can be judged on their merit.
I believe all political groups on the council, while probably not agreeing entirely with the proposals as they stand, understand and recognise the need for us to have a sound plan in place. I think they believe the proposals we have are sound, although politically they are difficult. The issue is bigger than any piece of land in any individual ward, and I am asking all councillors to see that bigger picture.
We will discuss the Local Plan on Wednesday and I am sure it will be lively – but we all know that the person we really have to convince is the inspector, and he or she will not be in the room.