The draft Dorset Local Plan (DLP) is in public consultation (See this post) The plan threatens large tracts of Green Belt land. Although it may feel like Ferndown and West Parley have been particularly singled out, there are actually plenty of other places across Dorset facing a similar fate. Yet it now appears Dorset Council has no authority to build on Green Belt land.
Green Belt land as we all know should never be considered for building. Unless there are exceptional circumstances. The council has declared that that those exceptional circumstances exist due to housing need. This is their primary justification for this proposed slaughter of Dorset’s Green Belt.
But do these exceptional circumstances actually exist? In fact have the council gone into this consultation with housing figures that are known to be wrong? Worse still, have they gone into this consultation fully knowing that their primary defence of “exceptional circumstances” due to housing need is in fact invalid? And has been since mid December?
A little background is needed here.
In August last year Central government started a consultation on a new white paper called “Planning for the Future” (Its Here). A white paper is in essence a statement of government policy. At the same time the government held a parallel consultation another White paper “Changes to Current Planning System” (Here) This second white paper informed the first.
This document initially caused a storm of protest due an amendment to what is known as the “Standard Method”. This is the formula that local councils use to figure out their housing needs. In fact had this revised formula been used to calculate Dorset’s housing supply things would actually have been much worse than they already are.
In the twelve week consultation that followed the release of “Planning for the Future” and “Changes to the Current Planning System” the government was, metaphorically speaking, beaten to death by its own MP’s as well as many outside consultee’s.
The government relented. As part of it’s atonement it revised the housing formula and clarified some of the issues that had been flagged up due to the consultation. Their reply to the “Changes to the Current Planning System” white paper consultation was printed on the 16th December 2020 (It’s Here)
The Crucial Clarification.
One of the clarifications concerned the concept of housing need being an “exceptional circumstance” permitting building on Green Belt land. (It appears that our council is not the only one to try and pull this stunt). The government’s reply to the consultation, which now forms part of the white paper (i.e. government policy) could not be more explicit.
More broadly, we heard suggestions in the consultation that in some places the numbers produced by the standard method pose a risk to protected landscapes and Green Belt. We should be clear that meeting housing need is never a reason to cause unacceptable harm to such places.
Later on the consultation response emphasizes that the Standard Method does not yield a sacrosanct value. It is an indicative value. A number that should be regarded merely as a starting point. It is not a target. The consultation outcome then lists the Green Belt (among others) as one of the constraints on this calculated housing number.
There is even more. Central Government has actually produced a spread-sheet (Here). This details what central government thinks should be the indicative housing need. With Dorset, as a new authority, this defaults to those values previously defined before the new Dorset Council was formed. The figures used in the DLP were arrived at in June 2020. So we have to assume they are incorrect.
Out of Date – Yet still in Consultation?
The unrevised DLP was released for consultation one month after the government responded to the White paper consultation. So it is now out-of-date. It needs heavy revision. Does Dorset council realise it has no authority to build on green belt? If so then the threat of development of all Dorset Green Belt sites should be removed.
We have to ask: If Dorset Council do not have authority to build on Green belt, why is this consultation continuing? The Plan needs major rework. May we suggest they pull the consultation? At least until the document has been revised. This would save a great deal of time, effort and money for everyone involved.
Assuming Dorset Council do not do the decent thing and pull the document, may we then suggest that the above government clarification should form one of the main arguments against building on Green Belt when people reply to the consultation.
If the current plan isn’t revised/withdrawn will Dorset Council potentially expose itself to years of appeals and litigation? Costs that ultimately the taxpayer has to cover.
So will Dorset Council pull the DLP consultation? If not we’d all love to know why.