Council Leader Stuart Bray’s response to MP Dr Luke Evans about the Local Plan

Published Wednesday, 03 March 2021

The following letter sets out council leader Stuart Bray’s response to Dr Luke Evans MP’s letter to the council about the Local Plan:

Dear Luke

RE : Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council Local Plan

It is clear from recent government announcements and the letter to me from Planning Minister Chris Pincher, that a key driver which appears to be placing undue pressure on the planning system locally and nationally is the government's ‘build, build, build’ mantra.

The previous Local Development Scheme was published in 2018 and did indeed envisage publishing a “Reg 19” Local Plan in the summer of 2020. When the Liberal Democrats came into power in May 2019 it was clear that work had not progressed sufficiently under the previous administration to enable this to happen. It was clearly unrealistic. Key pieces of evidence had not been commissioned, and the issues associated with Leicester’s unmet needs had not been addressed. Over the last year, as well as diverting staff resources to our COVID response, the team have had to deal with uncertainty caused by the planning white paper, a significant drain on resources from Neighbourhood Plan groups and responding to speculative planning applications and appeals. I am pleased to report that the team has now progressed the final pieces of evidence base required and is currently finalising a draft plan. We envisage publishing the Reg 19 version of the Plan this summer. 

My Director, Matt Bowers, met with representatives from MHCLG and separately with the Planning advisory Service last week. He has informed me that they were pleased with our progress on our new Local Plan and noted that the Borough Council has adopted in the last 12 years four development plan documents which is more than some authorities have managed in 40 years! We will be working with PAS to review our draft plan to ensure the work we have done is comprehensive and compliant with the legislation. 

The team from MHCLG were keen to learn from the experiences of our staff and for that to help shape the government's response to the planning white paper and understand blockages that might occur. We were able to feed back the  challenges around recruitment and retention of staff; the resources required to respond to neighbourhood plans; the huge financial cost to the Borough Council to produce a plan and then the cost that we have to pay for the Planning inspectorate to examine it; the issues associated with Leicester’s unmet need, particularly following the proposed housing algorithm and then the amended version which in fact will lead to more homes being pushed into the surrounding districts and boroughs from the city; the time it takes the Planning Inspectorate to examine local plans; the difficulties of delivering the infrastructure to meet those needs and the challenges associated with changes to the planning system including the white paper and changes to permitted development rights recently with no associated guidance. 

Thank you for the offer to facilitate the meeting that clearly won’t be necessary. However, it would be helpful if you could lobby your government to review the current policy on five year housing land supply. 

As you recall, I wrote to you last year about our concerns that the COVID crisis was slowing the build out of sites with planning consent and limiting the submission of new applications for housing in sustainable locations. I was concerned that this would impact on the ability of councils to demonstrate a five year housing land supply. That indeed has happened and key sites in the borough have slowed down and therefore it is likely that the council will not be able to demonstrate a 5YHLS. 

I note from your letter you share my desire to stop speculative development. However, as I said in my introduction, the government has been clear with its ‘build, build, build’ mantra so unfortunately it appears that our local communities will have to accept significant future development. I hope that I can count on your support to explain to local communities that our plan is a response to the government's housing targets and desire to “build build build”. This is a far cry from my administration’s position which is to have the ability to locally manage growth and ‘protect protect protect’.

It is disappointing that you appear to be deleting comments and challenges that are being posted to your position on the government’s planning reforms and I would hope that you will reconsider this to ensure the residents of Hinckley and Bosworth get a balanced view on this incredibly important matter.

Yours Sincerely

Stuart Bray

Leader of the Council.

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