Findings Relating to the Distribution of Housing Across the District
The Council had allocated high numbers of houses to the four main towns in the district – Dronfield, Eckington, Killamarsh and Clay Cross – based upon a spatial strategy of allocating at least 50% of housing to these towns and strategic sites. The latter refers to larger housing sites with new infrastructure such as shops and schools and / or employment growth planned in the same location. Clay Cross differs from the three “northern” towns as it is already undergoing some regeneration and has seen much lower post-war population growth. The Biwaters strategic site adjoins the northern side of the town and virtually all of the supporting, new employment growth in the Local Plan is in the South and East, with very few defined plans in the north.
The Inspector questioned the use of the 50% figure closely during the hearings and has stated in her initial findings that this specific figure was not tested for sustainability or compared to alternative figures. She has directed the Council to be more flexible regarding the amount of housing directed to the main towns and concluded, “the lack of site options following the initial Green Belt assessment indicates that the spatial strategy should have been ‘re-visited’ with particular regard to the precision of the 50% requirement…”
We debated the Council’s Spatial Strategy in detail at the Hearings as it was based on sweeping assumptions of larger settlements being highly sustainable, without considering very large population increases in the northern towns historically alongside declines of town centres, public transport and little investment in public services. The Council’s Settlement Hierarchy Study assessed services and employment sources in settlements. It contained many errors, highlighted by us and experienced planning consultants, listing many places in Dronfield that have now closed (including banks, the police station and the Civic Centre co-operative store) and omitting over 20 businesses in one settlement in the East of the district. It also used what we consider to be an invalid scoring system that placed the same weight of importance on a police station as a dog grooming salon!
The Council had inflated the number of houses required across the district significantly above the figure reached using the government’s recommended formula and applied several uplifts that neighbouring authorities have not used. The Council had then applied the “50%” Spatial Strategy as a linchpin to justify the need for Green Belt release in their Green Belt Topic Paper. Hence it was crucial that we put these arguments forth and the Inspector scrutinised this matter thoroughly at the Hearings. At the same time, we were mindful of the large extent of development already built or with planning permission granted in the South of the District.
The Council have not considered sites of ten dwellings or less within the Local Plan; this and the heavy focus on the main towns was seen, by some speakers. to be stifling small-scale development in smaller settlements that could help support the viability of localised shops and businesses. Both our speakers and several planning consultants also commented on the lack of housing development in the East of the district and around the border with Chesterfield Borough.
Early Review of the Plan
The Local Plan was due to cover housing plans for 2014-2034. The Inspector has directed the Council to remove hundreds of houses from the allocations on Green Belt and to include two additional sites (in Wingerworth and Hasland) that have been granted planning permission. She has also asked the Council to update their figures regarding how many houses have been “completed” thus far and offered two solutions to ensuring the Council has a sufficient housing land supply through to 2034.
A statement from Cllr Michael Gordon, posted on the NEDDC website, indicates that the Council will go for an early review of the Plan after ten years, rather than identifying new sites at this stage.