To consider the review of the Regulation 19 Sustainability Appraisal.
In response to statements from members of the public, the Chairman said reviewing the Council’s sustainability appraisal had been the responsible thing to do, after the company that had completed the appraisal, Place Services, had an appraisal it completed on behalf of North Essex authorities criticised by an Inspector. The Chairman noted that the Regulation 19 local plan consultation was purely an opportunity to make representations. Comments submitted would not be responded to by the Council, but instead would be sent to the Inspector.
The Planning Policy Team Leader gave a summary of the report. He said the updated sustainability appraisal would not require the Council to relook at the homes and jobs forecast or to produce a new evidence base. The appraisal would examine the existing evidence. If the appraisal did identify that the Council’s current strategy was appropriate, it would be able to be sent out for representations without another consultation on the local plan before it was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate by 24 January. AECOM, which was working on the Council’s updated sustainability appraisal, had said the appraisal could be completed before the plan was programmed for submission.. In response to a member question, the Planning Policy Team Leader said he would request a project plan from AECOM.
In response to a Member question, the Director – Public Services said it was part of the Council’s processes for officers to undertake testing and strengthening of the evidence base to support its examination once Council had passed the resolution to approve the submission of the local plan.
The Chairman said that he had been informed of the update to the sustainability appraisal about a week before other members. Officers had asked for a more fundamental, rather than light-touch, update of the sustainability appraisal. This was identified as option 3 in the report.
In response to a Member question, the Director – Public Services said officers would seek legal advice as to whether it would be appropriate to release counsel’s opinion on approaches to strengthening of the sustainability appraisal.
Members noted that the Council did not start off with an overall vision of how the local plan would look, and instead took an approach of seeking out various ideas for where development would take place. This was something that the North Essex Garden Communities group had received criticism from the Inspector for.
The Director – Public Services said his interpretation of the AECOM report was that it said that the regulation 19 sustainability appraisal report had been considered separately from the quantum of development and the distribution of development. However, while the report gave that impression, in each iteration of the plan, the quantum of development changed and alongside this the development strategy was reviewed each time. His view was that the problem lay in the adequacy of the explanation.
Councillor Ranger noted that ‘consultation’ had been wrongly used in the paragraph on option 3 of AECOM’s report, on page 86 of the agenda document. The Director – Public Services confirmed this should instead say ‘representation’.
In response to a member question, the Director – Public Services said that now the Stansted Airport planning application had been approved by the Planning Committee, the Inspector examining the submitted plan would need to decide whether the plan should be modified to reflect the council’s new position on the limits to airport activity.
The Chairman confirmed the working group would see the updated sustainability appraisal.
K McDonald, F Wilkinson and D Hall spoke on this item. Copies of their statements are appended to these minutes.
The meeting finished 18.45.