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Dorset Local Plan Alert

From Richard Thomas, 25 April 2024

Dorset Climate Action Network (DCAN) has raised the alarm on the latest moves by Dorset Council to again delay the date by when it intends to adopt a new Local Plan for development in Dorset.

The new date is summer 2027 - three years later than the date originally proposed.

DCAN claims the council is also rowing back on many of the demands it says were 'overwhelmingly' voted for by the public after the last Local Plan consultation in 2021.

These demands included pledges to:

• build more affordable housing, social housing and low-cost rental housing helping working families and young people to live in Dorset

• protect Dorset’s unique natural environment by a greater emphasis on brownfield sites

• provide better infrastructure for public transport, roads, health and education services

• tackle climate change by ensuring houses are well insulated with a low carbon footprint and include solar panels, heat pumps and EV charging points as standard.

Dorset Council's Conservative cabinet had initially appeared to accept these demands but in March it published its newly agreed 'Local Development Scheme' and announced it was going to 'rebuild' the Local Plan from scratch by trialling a new 'streamlined' system defined by the Government - whose local government minister is North Dorset MP Simon Hoare.

According to Dorset Council, the trialling of the new system - set out in the parts of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023 for plan-making in England - 'substantially changes' the way local plans are produced with the first of what it called 'the new-style local plans' to be prepared from autumn 2024 onwards.

The 'rebuilding' is due to start with a scoping exercise, including a sustainability appraisal, with the new Local Plan not due to be fully approved before summer 2027 - three years later than originally intended.

This led to DCAN offshoot Dorset Deserves Better (DDB) and Dorset Council for the Preservation of Rural England (CPRE) in March writing a joint letter to Dorset Council leader Spencer Flower expressing their concerns about the new plan and reminding him of the need to listen to local communities.

DDB, set up in 2021 to persuade Dorset Council to 're-think' the Local Plan to address residents' concerns, has the support of 66 organisations across Dorset including 25 Town and Parish councils representing over 30 per cent of residents in Dorset.

To date, Cllr Flower has neither acknowledged nor replied to that letter.

Giles Watts, founder of DDB and DCAN, said: 'Dorset’s Local Plan is such an important document because for the next 15 years [from adoption, so to 2042] it is a masterplan for the development of Dorset defining how towns and villages will grow, the placing of new housing developments and the siting of industrial sites including renewable energy generation.'

He said that, taken with the Minerals & Waste Plan, the Local Transport Plan - due next year - and the new Natural Environment, Climate and Ecological Strategy (NECES), 'these four policies pretty much define what Dorset Council will do and how our county will grow.'

But he claimed that 'after three years of procrastination', Dorset Council is no further forward than it was in 2021 and the new system 'relies more heavily on centrally-defined policies and there is less room for meaningful public consultation.'

He added: 'The changes have been brought about partly because the Government wants to have greater control - for example, to force the number of new houses built every year - and also because the Local Plan process has become stalled in many counties because it has become intensely political and deeply unpopular.

'The truth is that housing is big business with big profits and little gets built these days without the major housebuilders who prefer greenfield developments where profits are larger and less risky.

'Councils have been so starved of central funding that they are now entirely dependent on secondary payments or 'contributions' from property developers (section 106, Community Infrastructure Levy) to fund affordable housing, local infrastructure and improvements to services.

'It's sad but true that since Brexit and Covid, the country has become significantly poorer and that the system is broken.'

He concluded: 'It's recognised that Dorset needs a Local Plan but the vision offered by Dorset Council and the Government differs such a long way from what most people want. There has been no acknowledgement from Dorset Council that [the public's] priorities will be incorporated into the new Local Plan. Instead, the can has been kicked down the road for yet another year.'

There is also no reference to renewable energy provision becoming part of the mandatory planning conditions for new housing, he said. 

Dorset Council's website states that 'public and stakeholder engagement is an important part of the plan-making process. Involving residents, businesses, organisations, experts, infrastructure providers and town and parish councils allows local knowledge and expertise to be gathered from a wide range of perspectives.

'Our Statement of Community Involvement shows how we will consult with our stakeholders during the local plan development process.'

The moral of this story is watch this space - and be ready.

DCAN's latest newsletter (April 2024) is here:

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