Land has been identified for potentially thousands of new homes to be built across West Suffolk including sites in Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket and Haverhill along with job opportunities.
It’s part of the West Suffolk Local Plan covering the period up to 2040 and will eventually become a legal planning document, which allocates and guides where land is protected and where opportunities for development might take place, such as for new housing or land for employment.
The local plan also contains policies for affordable housing, new play areas and public open space, supported by infrastructure such as improvements to health and educational facilities, as well as roads.
Without a plan, development can and will still happen – but the council and the residents will have less of a voice and less certainty over the council’s approval or refusal of applications that come forward.
Without an up-to-date local plan, the council won’t be able to prevent inappropriate, speculative development from taking place as national guidance would favour sustainable development. That in turn would mean less protection for greenfield sites and the countryside, fewer safeguards to stop employment land being used for housing, as well as inappropriate garden, infill and other development that negatively impacts on local communities
The creation of a local plan has to go through several stages with public consultation as set out by the government. The evolving local plan has already gone through a call for sites and an Issues and Options public consultation in 2020.
Public feedback from that stage, conversations with stakeholders and emerging evidence and national policy guidance has been used to narrow down the sites for consideration. It has also helped the creation of new policy guidelines, which will eventually become future planning policies to be used in planning decisions.
Now the council is preparing to go out to public consultation again, this time on its “preferred options.”
That in turn will lead to another public consultation next year on the “submission” draft of the plan, taking on board feedback and evidence before finally submitting the plan to the Secretary of State.
He or she will then appoint a Planning Inspector to carry out an independent examination – and it is only after the Planning Inspector has found the plan acceptable, that the local plan can be recommended to a meeting of the council to agree to adopt.
Next week (April 26) West Suffolk Council’s Cabinet will be asked to recommend to council on May 17, that public consultation on the preferred options draft begins on May 26.
The Preferred Options report suggests which sites should go forward in the plan including early indicative numbers for how many homes could be built on a site.
In total, the government has identified that 15,200 more homes will be needed in West Suffolk by 2040 to meet future housing needs.
Some 8,600 of these already have planning permission which leaves land for at least 6,600 homes to be identified through the new local plan.
The Preferred Options stage includes land for 7,134 homes – this is because the council has to over allocate to provide a level of choice and certainty that it will meet its housing needs.
The preferred options are made up of new sites as well as sites in the existing plans of the former St Edmundsbury Borough and Forest Heath District councils that are yet to gain planning permission, and which are now being reassessed as part of this new local plan.
Full details on how people can have their say will be published when the preferred options consultation launches.
Alongside the public consultation, subject to Cabinet and council approval, the council will also issue a further call for sites. This is because there’s an insufficient quantity of smaller housing sites of one hectare or less to comply with national government policy, and to ensure a wide choice of employment sites to meet the demand established in an employment land review.
Alongside this the council will also issue a call for sites specifically to identify land for gypsies, travellers and travelling show people. The council has statutory duties and an assessment is being undertaken with some initial findings indicating accommodation needs.
The Cabinet report which includes details of the “preferred options” for strategic, non-strategic policies and settlements within West Suffolk, can be found at https://democracy.westsuffolk.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=521&MId=4968&Ver=4