A top planning barrister has judged the Canterbury Local Plan legally unsound because it has failed to properly assess sustainability and environmental impact after dramatically increasing the number of houses needed by more than 50%.
Richard Harwood QC was commissioned by Herne and Broomfield Parish Council, backed by CPRE Kent and a number of other local organisations (1), to judge whether the Local Plan was legally compliant.
He concluded that when Canterbury City Council greatly raised its housing target, it should have re-assessed the impact on habitats and the environment, and whether or not the proposed distribution of housing remained appropriate and sustainable. This it failed to do.
In January 2010, the council consulted on a Local Plan with a target of 10,200 new homes by 2026 (510 per year). In 2012, this target was revised to 15,600 new homes by 2031 (780 per year). However, despite the significant increase, the council relied on its earlier environmental assessments of where new development should be located.
Plan making rules, though, require such assessments to be double checked to be sure that no other option is better when circumstances change so dramatically. In sticking with its original preferred option for locating development, the council has failed to re-consider possible alternatives for a larger housing target.
This goes against clear guidance on how such environmental assessments of the plan should be carried out and this has already been tested in two landmark High Court Judgements (2).
Mr Harwood said: “A multi-stage process is permissible but it needs to address the proposals and alternatives in the plan which is finally produced, to have an Environmental Report in accordance with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive and have been subject to public consultation at the relevant stages.”
The council failed to do this – it did not properly assess the level of development it is now proposing and it was “legally incorrect” to conclude that the Local Plan “is not likely to result in significant effects on European Sites”.
CPRE Kent Senior Planner Brian Lloyd said: “Mr Harwood’s opinion backs up our own conclusions, which we have already submitted to the council. The council has seemingly, from the outset, cast in stone the sites it wants to see developed, and despite high levels of public opposition it has not been prepared to consider alternatives. We suggested a better approach, but the Council dismissed it without undertaking any assessment.”
Mr Lloyd gives the example of the South Canterbury site where the council failed to consider any alternative to 4,000 in the number of homes proposed. He also points out a major change to the plan at the last minute when it was proposed to relocate the Kent and Canterbury Hospital to the South Canterbury site. Even then, there was no change to the site assessment despite the inevitable sustainability issues a major regional hospital would create.
Canterbury City Council is due to submit the Local Plan for public examination by an Independent Planning Inspector before the end of the year. In the light of Mr Harwood’s critical opinion, which has been passed to the council, CPRE Kent is now calling on the council to accept that the plan is flawed and to carry out new assessments and consideration of alternatives, including public consultation, and then come up with a better, more realistic and less environmentally harmful plan. The legal opinion has also been put before Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, asking him to intervene.
(1) Herne & Broomfield Parish Council; CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England) Kent; Kent Federation of Amenity Societies; Dr Wendy Le-Las, Planning Consultant to the National Association of Local Councils; Canterbury Society; Westbere Parish Council; Langton and Nackington Road Association; Association of Canterbury Residents Associations; South Canterbury Residents Association; Geoff Meaden; Emily Shirley; Michael Rundell.