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Build, build, build - 23,000 homes isn't enough for South Worcestershire
UP to 9,000 new homes could be dumped across South Worcestershire - with a Government inspector saying a key blueprint for the county isn’t good enough.
The South Worcestershire Development Plan (SWDP) could be in tatters unless all three district councils in Worcester, Malvern and Wychavon agree a housing rise of up to 39 per cent.
At the moment the plan, which has been worked on for at least five years, earmarks land for 23,200 homes and 30,000 jobs by 2030.
But inspector Roger Clews, who has been reviewing the entire document, says it will not be enough.
Although his report leaves it to the councils to agree a new tally, it does suggest figures of 25,300 and 32,000, both of which have come from analysis commissioned by developers.
It sits on the fence in terms of which way to go, but warns them away from 34,000 or 36,000 homes, both of which were also figures suggested by the building industry.
He says the councils are guilty of “fundamental shortcomings”, including not planning for enough suspected inward migration as people come here for jobs.
His conclusions also say the councils are assuming many employment opportunities will go to older people currently living in Worcestershire, which is considered risky.
Mr Clews report asks all the councils to do “further analysis in order to derive an objective assessment” and come back to him with a higher figure.
He also says some of the retail in the towns across South Worcestershire - but not Worcester city - should be decreased.
At the moment there are 50,000 square metres of retail earmarked by 2030, but trends like internet and out-of-town shopping means it may be too much.
Mr Clews’ findings, revealed yesterday, have already been attacked by politicians, with West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin calling it a “terrible day for local democracy”.
Sources suggest the cost of the SWDP so far is likely to have topped £500,000, including two rounds of public consultation.
It also promises to re-open old battles about where the extra homes will go, with rural areas particularly vulnerable.
Councillor Judy Pearce, who chairs the South Worcestershire Joint Advisory Panel that leads work on the SWDP, said: “We are disappointed our locally derived figures have been questioned by the inspector.
“The inspector clearly feels that the figure should be higher and has asked us to undertake more analysis to enable him to agree a final figure.”
There is a feeling within at least one council that a figure below 30,000 homes is still the most likely outcome from the new number crunching.
But whatever new tally is settled on, it must have come about by using a sound methodology, or risk being rejected again.
There is also concern that Mr Clews has refused to warn the councils away from 32,000 properties, despite the fact it is 39 per cent above today's defunct figure.
INSPECTORS’ FINDINGS ATTACKED BY POLITICIANS
THE findings have been attacked by leading politicians, with some saying it is wrong for an “unelected planning inspector” to change the figures.
West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin said: “This is a terrible day for local democracy.
“All three councils have spent many months and thousands of pounds consulting local people and then putting the plan to a vote by each council.
“It defies logic that this process can be over-turned by an unelected bureaucrat working on numbers provided by housing developers.
“Any prediction of future housing numbers reflects assumptions and opinion, not facts, and so there can be no right or wrong answer.
“The inspector should confine his examination to factual errors, not mediate on differences of opinion, because locally and democratically agreed numbers must prevail in a democracy.”
Worcester MP Robin Walker said: “All MPs wrote to the inspector to urge him to listen to the views of local people, so it’s concerning we are seeing this pressure.
“The councils will have to show a strong statistical basis for whichever figure they come up with but we shouldn’t go too far and inflict radical changes on our communities.”
Some other politicians say it could have been far worse, insisting that Mr Clews could have opted to throw the plan out altogether, but chose not do.
In recent months growth plans in Coventry, North Warwickshire and Bedworth have all been scrapped by inspectors, whereas this one is being revised.
Mr Clews also says he is happy with the 280 hectares of employment land in the SWDP, despite pressure from councils in Birmingham and the Black Country to reduce it.
“Clearly there is disappointment over him not accepting the housing figures, despite considerable work.”
Talks are now set to start between all three district councils over what figure to suggest, using data like population growth and employment trends.
It is likely to lead to new delays of around six months, with Mr Clews saying he will repeat the first section of a two-stage public examination once he gets a new figure.
If that concludes without further problems he will then start phase two, which will look at the sites where the homes and businesses are proposed to be built.
Once that is complete, it will then need to go back to all three district councils for politicians to have a final vote, and if accepted will become a working document for planning decisions.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE INSPECTOR
ROGER Clews is one of Britain’s most prominent planning bosses, and is based in Bristol at a national inspectorate office.
Last year he was the eighth most “development happy” inspector in the country, having presided over 21 planning appeals by developers and overruled councils in 62 per cent of them.
His most recent work before the SWDP was in West Lancashire, where he backed the West Lancashire Local Plan, and before that a similar blueprint in Peterborough.
A veteran of the planning circuit, he is also working on a plan for 5,600 homes in Bury, Greater Manchester.
If he rejects the revisions outright the only other option the three Worcestershire councils have is to seek a judicial review, although that is thought very unlikely.
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