Cllr Tony Jefferson is the Leader of Stratford-on-Avon District Council.
We are embarking on the development of a new Local Plan. We want this to run through to 2050; although it sounds like a long time given the scale of development, we expect that any shorter timescale would lead to poor strategic decisions.
Our current plan, under a different regime, was dominated by a desire to keep housing numbers down. This didn’t work well. So this time we are aiming to develop a much more realistic plan from the beginning. We will have a much greater focus on employment, land, and economic development to create a more rounded and balanced plan.
The 2050 timescale also gives us far more opportunity to tackle what is perhaps the biggest challenge, that of inadequate infrastructure. There is a sense in which the current plan, which has led to “bolt-on” developments across small towns and villages could be characterised as getting housing “on the cheap”. We now have many communities with infrastructure stretched to, and sometimes beyond, capacity.
There is a fairly long list of pressure points:
The providers of the necessary infrastructure sometimes don’t have the funds to provide what is needed, sometimes don’t have the willingness, and even when they do have the funds they react with glacial swiftness.
This points us in the direction of focussing development for the new plan around the creation of much bigger settlements where we think it may be easier to unlock infrastructure provision.
As if these issues were not challenging enough there is always the plague of NIMBYS to cope with. “Yes we want houses just not here”. “Why are you increasing road capacity when you have declared a climate change emergency?” At the same time, of course, many of these same people want more affordable housing, or housing that enables their families to live locally. Joined up thinking appears not to be one of their strengths. It’s a “we want it all mentality”.
So, as you have probably gathered by now, developing a local plan is quite a challenge.
I do think that a lack of appropriate infrastructure, or a clear commitment to put it in place, ought to be a sound reason for not approving development. This should not be seen as a failure of the planning system or the planning authority but it might focus minds on some of the real issues in delivering development and the ambitious housing numbers being sought.