To receive a report which advises on the work
of the EELGA Peer Review team for the phase 2 work.
The Chair asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning and the Local Plan, Councillor Evans, to present the report on East of England Local Government Association’s (EELGA) recommendations on the new emerging Local Plan arrangements.
Councillor Evans said the report had been drafted in collaboration with Councillor Storah and the EELGA consultants, who had provided expert advice and helped develop the bespoke structure of governance that had been outlined in the report. He said both he and Councillor Storah disagreed with a number of EELGA’s recommendations in regard to the Local Plan Leadership Group (LPLG), namely a restricted membership and the proposal for meetings to take place in private, which they felt were in direct contradiction to the Administration’s mandate. In contrast, they proposed a larger membership, somewhere between eleven and fifteen members, and meetings open to the public. Councillor Storah would likely Chair the LPLG but Councillor Evans would not sit on the Group as a voting member. He said the timetable was very tight with a proposed completion date of December 2023.
Councillor Dean said he had concerns around timings as the process of engaging members had yet to begin, although the papers stipulated that the phase of member engagement on governance arrangements concerning the Local Plan, such as workshop sessions, would end on 31 July 2020. He said he also had concerns regarding the arrangements of the LPLG, particularly the idea of an extensive membership.
The Chair asked Members to bear in mind that the Local Plan Governance Arrangements would be discussed specifically on the next item.
In response to a question from Councillor Criscione, Councillor Evans said the Planning Policy team were working on the project initiation document which should be available later this week. Furthermore, he hoped that a member workshop could be scheduled before the end of July.
In response to a question from the Chair, Councillor Evans said slippage had already occurred but a project plan was coming forward and it would be vital that those dates referred to in the plan were adhered to.
Councillor Criscione expressed his concerns regarding the timetable and the prospect of government intervention. He said the initiation document was pivotal if Members were to keep the project on track for completion in 2023.
In response to a question from Councillor Jones, Councillor Evans said slippage had been caused by the delay in receiving the documentation from EELGA.
Councillor Storah clarified that the target date, as specified by the Government, for adoption of the Local Plan was December 2023. Most Local Plans took four years to make but he was confident that this could be completed in less time. He said this stage of preparation would be vital as it would set the direction of travel for the entire Local Plan process.
The Assistant Director – Planning said the work programme was still being finalised but it was unlikely that a Plan could be adopted by the end of 2023. He said the Council would remain in dialogue with central government to show that progress was being made and intervention was not required. He hoped that public hearings could take place by the end of 2023.
In response to a question from Councillor Sell, Councillor Evans said the issue of capacity and resources would be kept under review and he would provide an update at the Committee meeting in September.
Councillor Coote congratulated the Administration for applying the principle of pre-scrutiny to these proposals. He said he wanted the Council to adopt the best Plan possible and therefore the governance arrangements needed to encapsulate the principles of accountability, transparency, inclusivity and shared executive leadership. He said he was absolutely opposed to the concept of private meetings.
Councillor Storah said he agreed with Councillor Coote although there would be a role for Part 2/private meetings on those occasions when releasing information into the public domain would disadvantage the Council in its negotiations with developers and landowners.
The Chief Executive said that the Council would continue to have conversations with central government and as long as it could be demonstrated that progress was being made, and another body could not progress the Plan any quicker, government intervention would be unlikely.
Members discussed the concept of public and closed meetings. There was agreement that whilst meetings should predominantly take place in public, there would be times in which confidential information should be discussed in Part 2 so as not to put the Council at a disadvantage in negotiations.
Councillor Dean said he was uncomfortable with the proposed size of the LPLG.
Members discussed the failures of the previous Local Plan and the lack of reference made to the previous Plan in the report.
Councillor LeCount said the Council needed to learn from the mistakes of the past and evaluate the previous experience to show the way ahead.
Councillor Coote agreed and said the consultants should have shown how they came to their conclusions as there was little by way of explanation in the report.
Councillor Sell said the previous Administration had paid the political price for failing to produce a sound Local Plan. He said it was vital that the Council looked forward as there was little value in looking back if the “goalposts” had now moved.
Councillor Dean concurred and said the Council could not afford to waste time by looking back.
The meeting was adjourned at 8.35pm for a comfort break.
The meeting was reconvened at 8.45pm