Rugby Borough Council’s response to the Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council Borough Plan 2011‐
2031 Publication (2017) consultation document
Thank you for consulting Rugby Borough Council on your Borough Plan. I provide this response on behalf of Rugby Borough Council. This response will be taken to Rugby Borough Cabinet on the 2nd of April for retrospective approval. It should also be noted that Rugby Borough Council are signatory to a joint Coventry and Warwickshire authorities response (with the exception of Warwickshire County Council) in line with minutes (attached) of the Coventry, Warwickshire and Hinckley & Bosworth Joint Committee for Economic Growth and Prosperity meeting held on the 8th March 2017.
The Council recognise that the Borough Plan (2017) consultation has been undertaken following further evidence base work to address Duty to Cooperate (DtC) concerns raised by Coventry City Council and the Warwickshire authorities in its joint response to NBBC Submission Version Local Plan (2015).
A summary of the joint Coventry and Warwickshire authority’s objection to the Submission Version Local
Plan is set below:
a) The Plan only accommodated 10,040 dwellings which related to NBBC need only. The Plan failed to address the 4,020 unmet housing need arising in Coventry as set out the Coventry and Warwickshire Housing Memorandum of Understanding (Housing MoU).
b) The Plan was not based on up to date evidence in relation to the Strategic Housing Land Availability
Assessment (SHLAA) therefore the Borough’s housing capacity was unknown.
Section 33A of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 (as introduced by the Localism Act 2011)
establishes the ‘Duty to Cooperate’ and requires local authorities to engage constructively, actively and on an ongoing basis when developing their local plans and the evidence to support them. The ‘duty’ cannot be met retrospectively and cannot continue to be discharged in relation to this aspect of the NBBC plan once it has been submitted to the Secretary of State.
As such, NBBC and RBC have sought to discharge their respective responsibilities in relation to this ‘duty’ through numerous areas of joint working. Of most relevance to this report are work on the Housing MoU and joint evidence such as the Green Belt and housing needs.
Whilst acknowledging the positive steps taken by NBBC since the Local Plan Publication Version (2015) RBC consider that NBBC has failed to comply with the DtC process. This is on the basis that NBBC has not engaged constructively, actively and on an on‐going basis to maximise the effectiveness of Local Plan preparation in the context of the unmet housing needs within the Coventry and Warwickshire Housing Market Area (HMA). Furthermore RBC is also of the view that there are a number of soundness issues with the Plan.
The principle reason for the failure of the DtC process is the timing in which NBBC disclosed the extent of the housing shortfall and the resultant approach to address any Duty to Cooperate concerns arising from the Borough Plan.
In late 2016 NBBC first indicated that their emerging Plan would result in a shortfall of housing need within the HMA. Following on from this on the 10th January 2017 NBBC proposed a series of steps to ensure that the development needs of the HMA are met in full, however, the extent of the shortfall was still not reported.
The steps set out by NBBC were as follow:
1. Sub regional authorities to review NBBC SHLAA in terms of its conformity with Coventry and Warwickshire Joint SHLAA methodology and supported by an appropriate evidence. This was to ensure that the authorities are satisfied that the NBBC’s housing land capacity has been fully utilised
2. Officers to identify option(s) for way forward to ensure needs of the HMA can be met
3. Sub‐regional Member meeting to be arranged where options for way forward can be discussed/ agreed
with a view to preparing a report for the Joint Committee
It was only on the 17th January that RBC were informed of the level of housing shortfall as a result of the Borough Plan, around the time when the Cabinet papers were uploaded to NBBC website.
The timescales for the next steps to review the MoU, as above, were set out in a report and agreed by the Coventry, Warwickshire and Hinckley & Bosworth Joint Committee meeting held on the 27th January 2017.
The report highlighted that the timescales for the next steps were driven by the Borough Plan consultation period and that NBBC have indicated that they would find it extremely difficult to agree to an extension to the consultation timescale. The report continued that if any such request to extend the consultation timescale were acceptable to NBBC, there would probably be insufficient time to reach agreement on a new MOU.
Given the timelines above RBC consider that NBBC, who were aware of their capacity issues for a period of time, should have engaged with the HMA authorities earlier. This would have enabled the more collaborative discussions about NBBC’s SHLAA and the need to revisit the Housing MoU to ensure the
strategic priorities are met in full in line with NPPF paragraph 179. The additional time would have also enabled NBBC to be satisfied that they have met their Duty prior to consultation on the Borough Plan. This would have removed the uncertainty for other HMA authorities who are progress their Local Plan’s in line with the Housing MoU.
In reference to the first step detailed above is a positive approach in addressing the shortfall of housing needs within the HMA, this is on the basis that the other authorities accepted NBBC’s position. The SHLAA had already received endorsement by NBBC’s Cabinet and was subject to public consultation thus no changes could have been made to the Plan. Irrespective of the above, RBC welcomed the opportunity review NBBC’s SHLAA. Officers raised a number of SHLAA queries such as whether large sites could be
considered in smaller parcels; the need to have a consistent approach to Green Belt and defensible boundaries; the application of landscape evidence; clarity on evidence base documents; and demonstration that NBBC have tried to overcome constraints identified in a positive manner.
Further to this whilst not strictly related to the NBBC SHLAA, the Borough Plan contains a number of housing allocations where the capacity of the sites are based on a local dwellings per hectares (dph) assumption in line with the Joint SHLAA methodology, though some sites have a higher dph assumption based on additional evidence base work. It is not clear why the additional evidence base work did not make density for all of the allocated sites. It is also considered that whilst the lower dph assumption is based on local evidence, consideration should have been given to higher assumptions given that NBBC is of the view it has maximised its housing land capacity. This is in line with the Government’s ‘Fixing our broken housing market’ consultation document. This sets out the Government proposals to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to make clear that plans should make efficient use of land and avoid building homes at low densities where there is a shortage of land for meeting identified housing requirement.
NBBC have provided responses to the queries raised by RBC and the other HMA authorities where they reiterate their selection of sites proposed for allocation and have indicated no changes will be made to Borough Plan. RBC still has concerns on the justification of the sites rejected and density assumptions that have been applied and remains of the view that NBBC’s full housing capacity has not been achieved.
In relation to the second step set out by NBBC, RBC consider that without being satisfied that the full housing capacity of NBBC has been achieved discussions on the Housing MoU are unproductive. RBC also raised questions to NBBC as to apparent extent of housing shortfall against the housing MoU. The Borough Plan makes provision for a maximum of 13,374 dwellings to be delivered within the Plan Period but states there will be a shortfall of 1,690 dwellings within the HMA.
However, RBC considers the HMA shortfall figure, based on the figures contained within the Plan, is in fact 686 dwellings. This is as a result of the removal of a contingency figure that has been applied to NBBC assessed housing need only and not against the whole housing target, which is inclusive of some unmet need from CCC. RBC fundamentally disagree with this approach as it appears that sites which form the contingency will be delivered in any event within the Plan Period – they do not seem to be performing a role of contingency which would be released when other sites fail to come forward. Further, the Borough plan will be monitored against all of the 13,374 being delivered.
RBC does not think a plan which states it is delivering at capacity, to the point where there remains unmet need within the HMA, can have a contingency. There is no precedent within the MoU for a requirement to place a local authority contingency ahead of meeting the housing needs of the HMA in full nor is there for a contingency requirement at all. Furthermore there is no evidence or discussions that have taken place about the decision to move away from the MoU target took any account of the consequent implications elsewhere. This is of particular concern to RBC and other HMA authorities who are in latter stages of their respective Local Plans making which are in line with the Housing MoU.
RBC is of the view that there is no justification or clarification made of the 10% contingency contained within the Borough Plan for NBBC’s OAN. As such this should be removed and the Borough Plan clarify that the housing target for the plan period is 13,374, which therefore incorporates significantly more of the unmet need within the HMA, as detailed in the Housing MoU, which all other authorities’ plans are informed by.
Given the above, RBC considers that the next steps undertaken by the HMA authorities with NBBC have not been constructive as they have retrospectively embarked on these discussions. A more active approach would have been to undertake these steps in advance of finalising the Publication Borough Plan. The approach taken by NBBC seems to try and rectify a decision that they have made to ensure that by the time the plan is submitted for examination that there will be no DtC concerns, as they would be not able to rectify these after submission.
A further issue regarding Duty to Cooperate has been the irregular attendance of NBBC members at critical Duty to Cooperate meetings, with the most recent occasion being on the 28th February 2017 in line with NBBC’s next steps process set out above.
This has led to a perception that NBBC are (at least to an extent), disengaged from the political processes that have been central to the development of the MoUs. Issues regarding the distribution of housing and employment land across the HMA are inevitably political in nature and require ongoing and sensitive dialogue to find effective and justified ways forward. Given this background, it is critical that NBBC engage in constructive dialogue with all the Councils in the HMA prior to the submission of the Borough Plan. This would provide a reasonable prospect of resolving the outstanding issues and would enable this Duty to Cooperate objection to be withdrawn.
Whilst the above response sets out a number of concerns in relation to the DtC RBC consider that NBBC
could still pass the legal test, should the following actions be undertaken:
‐ Ensure that the SHLAA is clearly supported by evidence base and a consistent approach is applied to site selection. This will enable HMA authorities to be certain that NBBC housing land capacity has been fully utilised.
‐ Review housing density assumptions for the allocated sites in light of capacity concerns raised by the
‐ Remove the 10% contingency applied to NBBC assessed need. This amendment would be a minor
amendment to the supporting text of Policy DS4 which relates to the figure that the Borough Plan would be accommodating from CCC.
Whilst some of the actions are related to soundness issues of the Plan, it is believed that they are vital to ensure that the HMA authorities are satisfied to a greater extent that the capacity of NBBC has been fully explored. This will enable a better understanding as to whether there would remain any housing shortfall within the HMA and the next steps the authorities would need to take should there be one. RBC are happy to discuss the above in greater detail and hope this response is constructive and to enable NBBC to progress their Plan and to ensure housing needs of the HMA are met in full. If NBBC submit the plan without allowing sufficient time or resources for effective dialogue, then this objection is likely to be
sustained in to the Examination process.
Development Strategy Manager
Rugby Borough Council