Much of the criticism at the Epping Forest Examination was around the level of housing provision and the methodology utilised to assess future need, as well as the site selection process, which excluded many “reasonable alternatives” from the Strategic Authority on the grounds they were simply “not preferred” by the Council. The reasoning for the Council’s preferred direction of growth is at best opaque and has been demonstrated on numerous occasions throughout the Examination, not to be based upon the considerations of “reasonable alternatives” that are available as required by a Sustainability Appraisal (SA).
This in itself appears to be a potential route for Judicial Review. Neither of these issues are tackled head on by the Inspector’s letter, although it does state that the capacity of certain allocations might need to be reduced, or the sites deleted altogether. We have calculated that as a result of the Inspector’s comments about 300 dwellings may have to be deleted from the Plan and a further 800 are “at risk” from being deleted.
The Inspector refers to the evidence and suggests that alternative sites could be found relatively quickly to replace any lost capacity resulting from her recommendations.
The Inspector goes on to comment that the evidence presented indicates that certain types/categories of sites could be revisited if necessary, including those which fall low in the “land preference hierarchy” for technical reasons.
The Inspector states that she is not suggesting that this review of sites must be done to correct systematic methodological flaws, although these were clearly laid bare in many of the sessions where several promoters identified systematic flaws in the site selection and SA process of considering reasonable alternatives.
The driving concern for the Inspector was the inadequacy of the draft Plan in dealing with the impact of development on Epping Forrest itself. Action 6, as set out in the Inspector’s letter, is for the Council to provide clear evidence that the necessary SANG (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace) can be delivered over the Plan period. It also requires proposals for SANG in the first five years within the Plan itself; and any Main Modifications needed to ensure that all site specific SAMM (Strategic Access Management and Monitoring) measures and SANG requirements are reflected in the Plan.
Like many other draft Local Plans that have been rushed through to avoid having to plan for the higher numbers required by the standard methodology, there remains a significant element of work to shore up this deeply challenged draft Plan.
This Plan actually seeks to avoid planning for the levels of housing which are required in response to the Government’s policy objective of delivering 300,000 dpa by the mid 2020’s until we are in that time period.