North East Derbyshire Local Plan - helping our new District Council to clean up a decade of failure on planning in our area
For more than a decade before 2019, North East Derbyshire District suffered from poor decisions, poor strategy and poor leadership on planning matters. That has culminated, in recent years, in the worst of all worlds
- An out-of-date local planning framework: North East Derbyshire should have renewed its local plan framework about a decade ago but the previous Council failed to do so - meaning its rules are not out-of-date and can't be relied upon - and which caused;
- Speculative development all over the constituency: over 1,000 houses have been built or approved all across North East Derbyshire which probably shouldn't have been (in Wingerworth, Killamarsh, Ashover and elsewhere) because developers were able to get speculative developments through as a result of the planning framework being out of date - and which is topped off by;
- A draft local plan which, in its initial form left much to be desired: the old leadership at the Council put together a new draft framework which, in my view, had too many houses in it and tried to build on Green Belt unnecessarily.
As a result, recent years has seen the perfect storm of issues in North East Derbyshire - speculative development which had gone on for far too long from developers building too many houses and often in the wrong places - and a new framework which, even if it was adopted, would create many issues in itself. When I was elected in 2017, North East Derbyshire residents had become tired and cynical about a planning system that had gotten out of control and a District Council that didn't seem to know how to solve it.
I campaigned in 2017 against bad planning decisions and to try to sort out the mess which the Council had gotten us all into. And I know it wouldn't be easy - irrespective of who is in charge, planning can often be challenging and all Councils have a difficult job to get the balance right. The building of new houses can be controversial and there are difficulties in selecting locations which residents can support. Worse still, turning round failing planning policies take time - the seeds of the problems from 2015 onwards were sown years earlier and it will take a number of years to tackle some of the issues that they have caused.
In early 2019, we had some success when we managed to convince the Planning Inspector to change an earlier version of the draft local Plan and tone down some of the old District Council's outlandish Green Belt proposals. That saw multiple sites being removed from the framework and protected land in Coal Aston, Eckington and some of Dronfield. This was a very positive step forward and testament to the power of local residents, campaigners and Councillors.
In May 2019, the residents of North East Derbyshire replaced the old failing District Council with a new team who was dedicated to trying to improve the planning problems for the long-term. Over the last two years, working with your new Councillors, we have taken steps to improve the plan and find ways to make it better:
- Campaigning against individual applications: where we think that applications are inappropriate, we work with local residents to try to prevent them from happening. It's an imperfect battle until we have a new local plan in place but, over recent years, we have fought off applications or mooted applications around Swathwick Lane in Wingerworth, in North Wingfield and Killamarsh - and are currently fighting a large inappropriate application in Old Tupton
- Improving enforcement and keeping developers honest: The new District Council has expanded planning enforcement - so that developers are regularly checked and, if attempts are made to get around what has been approved, they are dealt with
- Trying to get the Local Plan improved further: we're pleased that the Local Plan has already been improved once from the initial poor draft started by the old District Council - and, as a result, hundreds of houses will not now be built on Green Belt. Although the plan is at a late stage, and the kind of changes we are seeking are getting more and more challenging, we are continuing to do what we can to improve it, including running a large campaign in Winter 2020 / 2021 to try to highlight to the independent Planning Inspector - who makes the ultimate decision about what is in it - about the importance of further changes.
Planning is always a difficult and challenging situation - and one where there is often no easy answers. Yet, along with your local Councillors, we are clear that the answer wasn't what the previous Labour leadership did - to put their heads in the sand, to not consult residents properly and to leave a legacy which was a perfect storm of problems affecting all parts of the District. When the new Council took over in 2019, it said that it would be a long road back on planning, that there would be challenges and problems along the way, that applications already approved couldn't be reversed and that it was likely we would lose some further battles along the way because of the weak situation we found ourselves in. Nonetheless, we committed to getting going - and, over the last two years, we have made real progress. It will still take a number of years to fully get there but, finally, we are well on the way to improving the situation for good.
North East Derbyshire Local Plan - current situation
The North East Derbyshire Local Plan has improved since its initial draft back in 2017 but still has four Green Belt sites in it which we have been trying to convince the Planning Inspector to remove as part of a consultation in Winter 2020 / 2021. In July, we heard from the Inspector that, sadly and frustratingly, she had not removed those last four sites - despite a huge campaign to try to convince her to do so. Whilst the Inspector hasn't given precise reasons why, it is probable that the reason was that the sites were in the initial draft of the Plan and it is unconventional and unusual to remove sites at this late stage - again showing that decisions taken many years earlier have the potential to cause problems long after.
Whilst it does look like we are running out of options, there is one final option we have - to ask the Ministry for Housing to amend the draft Local Plan prior to adoption. I have made that formal request and am waiting for a response from them. I must be completely honest with residents and say that this change is rather unlikely at this very late stage - and it is not something that the Ministry has, as far as we can see, done elsewhere - but we are going to try prior to a decision being made on its adoption.
At some point in the coming weeks, the Ministry will let us know whether it has removed the remaining Green Belt sites. You can show your support for the change by signing the petition above.
Possible changes to national policies on planning
Separately to our ongoing local issues, the Government has also run a number of consultations on broader changes to the national planning system. Whilst no system will ever be perfect, I have responded to these consultations on behalf of North East Derbyshire to highlight some of the lessons we have learnt and to stand up for our area in those consultations. I was pleased to see that the Government announced that it would not go ahead with technical changes to a methodology which calculates housing need which would likely have adversely affected our area. You can read the response I sent in at the time below.