Regional plan set to be abandoned as councils prepare own alternatives

January 06 2020
Regional plan set to be abandoned as councils prepare own alternatives

A COORDINATED plan for the future of housing, transport and jobs in the region looks likely to be scrapped.

Councils are preparing to draw up their own individual alternatives to the West of England Joint Spatial Plan, after government inspectors sent it back to the drawing board halfway through an inquiry last year.

Despite 16 months of work by four authorities, the inspectors highlighted “fundamental concerns” with the joint spatial plan – a document setting out where 105,000 homes would be built by 2036 – and demanded “radical” changes.

North Somerset Council is due to vote tomorrow on whether to formally withdraw from the process, and the three other councils involved – Bristol, South Gloucestershire and B&NES – are likely to follow suit.

The JSP included plans for major developments in Thornbury, Buckover, Charfield, Coalpit Heath and Yate.

North Somerset is preparing to draw up another local plan – but councillors have been warned that the challenges will be greater and the housing targets higher this time around.

Michael Reep, North Somerset Council’s planning policy manager, told scrutiny panel councillors on January 3: “Leaving the JSP doesn’t mean we can ignore strategic issues. We still have to work with our neighbours.

It doesn’t mean the difficult decisions are going to disappear. In many ways they are going to get tougher.

It doesn’t mean the pressure is going away. In many ways it’s increasing.”

A South Gloucestershire Council spokesman said the JSP was “not viable in its current form” and the authority will not pursue it. Members are set to vote in February to withdraw and the council is already drawing up its own local plan.

A spokesman said: “We remain committed to working with our three neighbouring West of England councils and the West of England Combined Authority on the best way forward for the region, to positively address its strategic planning needs.

We do know that we need to find space to build homes for the growing number of people of all ages who want to live and work in South Gloucestershire.

That demand hasn’t gone away and we have a legal duty to work to meet it.

Our new Local Plan will set out how we plan to meet those needs, as well as for space for employment land and the infrastructure that will support growth and other improvements. “However, we will not be using any new process to simply re-present all of the proposals that were looked at through the JSP unchanged.

We want our entire community to be involved in the development of the new Local Plan and we remain committed to plan-led development designed to meet local needs and we will continue to resist speculative applications from developers who do not share our vision to keep South Gloucestershire a great place to live and work.”

A spokeswoman for Bristol City Council said it was committed to working with its neighbours.

B&NES Council has been approached for a comment.

A spokesperson for the West of England Combined Authority said: "WECA remains committed to working with the four West of England councils on the best way forward for the region to positively address its strategic planning needs. WECA and the councils will be jointly commissioning a refresh of the strategic evidence base."


By Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporting Service