Local Development Plan future in doubt as political support pulled after Inspector writes of “very serious reservations”
Wrexham’s second attempt at getting a Local Development Plan adopted appears to be under serious threat after political support was pulled following a severely critical letter from Inspectors.
The official title of the plan is “Wrexham Local Development Plan 2013 – 2028”, and developments this morning mean even after a seven year saga there could be no plan in place.
The first Local Development Plan (LDP) failed back in 2012 before becoming live after a planning Inspector concerns with the level of housing provision proposed within it. Over the past few years a revised document, LDP2, has been drawn up, with an initial consultation taking place in 2016 and the mammoth process ongoing since then.
The Independent Group, who make up the ruling administration on Wrexham Council and include the Leader of Wrexham Council Mark Pritchard, have today announced they no longer support the plan. Back in November 2018 Lead Member for Planning Councillor David Kelly, part of the Independents Group, presented the LDP2 to the Full Council for a key vote and at the time backed the document, and warned if the plan did not progress Wrexham could be subject to ‘predatory development’.
This lunchtime a statement from from Cllr Mark Pritchard, on behalf of the Independent Group on Wrexham County Borough Council, said:
At a meeting yesterday, the Independent Group discussed the recent letter from the LDP Inspectors, dated 13 November, 2020 regarding the re-run Gypsy and Traveller site assessment and selection process in general, and the proposed site allocation near Llay in particular. The letter expressed very serious reservations regarding the inclusion of a site which is in a Country Park and Green Wedge, particularly that its inclusion conflicts with national planning policy.
The Independent Group on Wrexham County Borough Council has lost confidence in the process and unanimously decided that it will no longer support the LDP.
The announcement of the withdrawal of key political support means the future of the LDP2 is in serious doubt, and there could now have to be a fresh third attempt at a Local Development Plan.
Coalition partner grouping Wrexham Independents, led by Cllr David A Bithell, have told Wrexham.com in reaction to this article, that the Inspector is coming back early December following concerns raised and the group will await the Inspectors’ conclusions prior to making a formal decision.
Cllr Hugh Jones, Leader of the Conservative Group which makes up administration along with the Independents and Wrexham Independents has told Wrexham.com, “The Conservative Group will meet on Monday to discuss our position, however, personally, I have made it clear that I do not support the plan when as Deputy leader of the Council I voted against it. My grounds have not changed, the loss of most versatile and valuable agricultural land, the erosion of the Green Barrier, the unacceptable pressures on rural communities and housing numbers that are clearly not supported by the evidence. The plan was flawed from the very beginning and needs to be confined to the dust bin of history. A history that planners fail to learn from when they seek to build houses on land liable to flooding. The time has come for a strategic re-think and for elected members to take back control of the process.”
The trigger for the political move came on Wednesday with Inspectors’ formal response to a re-submission of a section of the LDP2. Back in March Wrexham Council were told to consider reassessing the Gypsy and Traveller sites contained within LDR2 after inspectors identified a “serious failing”.
On Wednesday the Inspectors wrote to Chief Officer Planning and Regulatory Services, Mr Lawrence Isted, voicing unprecedented concerns calling into question not just the process taken but also accuracy of information in the council’s new submission over Gypsy and Traveller sites.
The letter to Mr Isted states, “In summary, we still have very serious reservations regarding the inclusion of a site which is in a Country Park and Green Wedge, particularly that its inclusion conflicts with national planning policy. We are not persuaded that the evidence currently points to this site representing the ‘last resort’1 that national planning policy requires in respect of Green Wedge or that the impact on the recreational value of the Country Park and the associated well-being considerations have been properly assessed.”
In a wide ranging letter the Inspectors politely question the “basic” maths of Wrexham Council, stating on a pitches calculation that they “cannot understand the arithmetic calculations” presented, and offer a possible method, and almost sarcastically requests documentation is updated to “take account of the inaccuracies at which you’ve arrived”.
The letter continues with scathing criticism, worse considering it is a second effort, within a second effort at the overall plan, referring to “basic errors, which in turn questions the accuracy of the information contained within the documents”. The Inspector also queries the truth of data submitted, which are “recorded as ‘No longer in WCBC ownership’ or ‘In other use’”. The Inspector refers to ‘interested parties’ who allege that they are still owned by WCBC, only partially disposed of or are not in other uses.
As a result the Inspector states “we are not convinced that the information on which the site assessments are based is wholly or substantially accurate”.
The embarrassment of inaccuracy continues with other problems highlighted:
- One site area is listed as 0.21ha, however another section refers to the same site as being 0.25ha – plus being on a steep slope and undevelopable.
- A site with a ‘covenant for a community centre’ has apparently had WCBC apply for demolition, and the site ‘has been considered for housing development’.
- Two sites with different site names are stated as being the same wildlife site.
- Four sites are listed as ‘school playing fields’ with the Inspectors’ report stating ‘interested parties categorically state these are not playing fields’.
- One site has analysis over the nearest bus stop, but the Inspectors looked at the Travelline Cymru site and spotted the information did not appear correct, another has similar issues.
- Another site has similar location issues, with the Inspectors pointing out the nearest stated school is actually a different one.
- One site was stated as being 2.3KM away from the nearest settlement, but the Inspectors referred to another map in the submission and points out that says it is 146 metres away.
- Further sites have location issues, with proximities to services with a post office / shopping and the like are ‘incorrect’.
Further issues are raised, with the Inspectors pulling apart the re-run submission, finally finding “we are not convinced that the re-run assessment had been carried out in a robust manner”.
The Inspectors concludes, “There are clearly a number of errors and inconsistencies in the data and the latest evidence fails to provide us with the confidence we were hoping for in terms of the robustness of the re- run site selection process. The evidence fails to justify the case for the allocation of a site for gypsy and traveller accommodation which is in a Country Park and Green Wedge.”
Previously it had been noted in public meetings that if the LDP2 process failed it could mean Welsh Ministers become involved in the process, taking it away from local hands.
A third attempt could mean large changes, as there are now new statistics we first reported on that show Wrexham’s population could drop by 1.5% rather than grow substantially. More recent LDP evidence base documents refer to a range of projections, that could indicate a 152k to 158k total population range, and it appears locally the LDP2 is being worked off delivering to meet those population expectations.
The next opportunity to debate the LDP in the political process will be at the full Council meeting on Wednesday, 16 December.
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