The Director of Planning, Development and Transportation submits a report which outlines the main strategies and proposals of the submission for the City of Leicester Local Plan for public consultation in November 2022.
A presentation will also be made at the meeting covering the report and related details.
Members will be invited to consider the report and make any recommendations for Full Council.
The Director of Planning, Development and Transportation submitted a report which outlined the main strategies and proposals of the submission for the City of Leicester Local Plan for public consultation in November 2022.
Members were invited to consider the report and make any recommendations for Full Council.
The Chair stated that this was a key opportunity to examine the Local Plan proposals ahead of a Full Council decision. Members were asked to examine the proposals and to offer comments and recommendations in respect of the final stages in adopting a new local plan. It was noted that scrutiny commissions had already looked at the plan and had provided comment on it during discussions.
The City Mayor introduced the plan. He stated it was important that the City had a Local Plan, which was a requirement, and needed to enable the Council to plot the future as a city, and particularly to have a framework for land use decisions, for employment, new developments that provided employment, and housing. It was noted there was an expectation from Government that the authority provide housing in and around Leicester, but he was keen to do it in a way that protected the vital open space, the green space and ecology within the city, which was a difficult balance. He added that in seeking to find the space for housing there was a very strong incentive, with those constraints in mind, and because it made good environmental sense in other respects for people to not to need to travel for work, leisure or other activity. He believed officers had sought to get the balance right, and they had put a tremendous amount of work and professional expertise into the plan. He also said he was very grateful for the fact they had worked very well with the district councils around Leicester, and that those districts had themselves engaged with Leicester City Council to try to get the balance to take an appropriate amount of development within their areas.
The City Mayor was mindful that a significant volume of papers lay behind the draft plan, and that it was appropriate to ensure that they were examined. He suggested to bring further detail of the strategies and polices that lay behind the local plan to the Overview Select Committee at its next ordinary meeting.
Grant Butterworth (Head of Planning) and Fabian DCosta (Team Leader, Generic Planning) were present to introduce the report. It was noted the Plan had been taken to three scrutiny meetings in recent weeks, and each Commission had been reminded of what had been said at the previous stage of consultation and how officers had addressed those comments. A summary of discussion and consideration from each of the scrutiny commissions had been published and circulated to the Overview Select Committee prior to the meeting. The extracts had reflected extensive questioning on the plan.
Members were informed the plan needed to be evidence based, and the intention was to make all documents with evidence available to all Members for review over the coming weeks, and to give opportunity for Members to seek clarity from officers.
The Chair then invited the Members that had chaired the Scrutiny Commission meetings to provide a few words on key issues raised.
Councillor Westley reported back from the Housing Scrutiny Commission which had been joined by Members of the Economic Development, Transport and Climate Emergency Commission. He added he been pleased that Members had been able to make a series of comments and observations which they hoped the Executive would act upon. He expressed thanks on behalf of all Members to Grant Butterworth and his team, in that they were able to set out what was a complex picture in an understandable way. Points made were:
· For Housing Scrutiny Commission Members, the key factor in the Plan was the need to provide enough development land to meet the social housing needs of the community over the coming decades.
· A more general point made related to the relationship between housing and employment. It was felt those provisions should be near each other to reduce travel time and costs and to curtail air pollution impacts.
· Members were also concerned that space standards for new buildings be clearly set out in the Local Plan.
· Another concern that had been raised was the planning for high-rise buildings. Members were concerned that isolated high-rise blocks were a worse option than high-rise development near existing similar schemes.
· Finally, there was discussion about brownfield sites. It was felt some could be developed, though members were warned that the Environment Agency had stopped the development of several sites because of the risk of flooding. Members had asked for a summary report on brownfield sites across the city and their status in terms of what obstacles there were in developing them.
Councillor Halford reported back from the Heritage, Culture, Leisure and Tourism Scrutiny Commission who had been joined by Members of the Neighbourhood Services Scrutiny Commission for joint scrutiny of the Local Plan item. Some of the points covered were:
· Having a reassurance for space standards for new development housing areas.
· Priority be given to affordable social housing for future housing developments.
· The council to retain and control our open spaces, as much as possible.
· The council to retain a sense of place and sustainability with consideration to be given to the history of land areas and archaeological sites of interest in Leicester, for example the Western Park Golf course site.
· Consideration be given to the needs of the younger generation and the elderly generation within areas of development, with amenities planning for all age groups, for example Rancliffe Crescent.
· Green wedge land area should be retained where possible, for example the land adjacent to Grand Central Railway.
Councillor Halford then thanked Grant Butterworth and his team for preparing an excellent presentation to scrutiny, and for taking on board the views and comments of scrutiny members to feed into the Local Plan, as it was a massive and complex topic for the council and the city.
Councillor Thalukdar, Chair of Neighbourhood Services Scrutiny Commission, added that housing was needed in the city, with social housing being particularly important for the next generation of people who were finding it very difficult to buy a house. He also added retainment of green space was important and should not be protected as far as possible.
Councillor Batool (for Councillor Pantling) reported from the Adult Social Care, Children, Young People and Education, and Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Commissions which had examined the Local Plan proposals at their joint meeting. It was reported the meeting had been well attended by Members across the three commissions. Points raised mainly related to:
· Concern around the loss of green space and the impact it had on health and wellbeing.
· A desire for the Council to build its own social housing.
· The impact of further house building on access to front-line health services, including GPs and dental practices.
· The need for young people, particularly through schools, to be engaged in the process.
The meeting had agreed two specific recommendations:
1. That where possible, the Council should look to prioritise the building of more purely social housing on Council owned sites; and
2. That where possible, the Council should act to minimise the impact of new developments on existing inequalities (including those relating to health and education) especially on sites owned by the Council
The request was that Overview Select Committee endorse those comments and recommendation ahead of Full Council consideration.
The City Mayor wished to comment on one particular point, noting that there was a desperate need in the city to deliver more social housing. He wanted it noting that, whilst it could not be specified what sort of housing should be provided when drawing up the Plan, the Council could commit itself to maximise the development of social housing. He was of the opinion the Council needed to set very challenging targets and make these clear to the public so they could judge that the Council was making its contribution to social housing to relieve the desperate housing crisis in the city.
Members were then given the opportunity to make comments and ask questions and responses were given:
· A Member stated the Local Plan consultation had been ongoing for several years and had gone through another round of scrutiny, and that as part of the process members should have had the opportunity to see those documents which would have addressed some of the issues raised.
· With Government directives, and the current Levelling Up Bill, the new Prime Minister was reported to have said she did not believe that housing targets works and wanted to abolish them. It was asked if the Local Plan could be obsolete within 18 months, and that sites allocated with a few thousand houses on could be kept as green spaces.
· Officers responded that there had been various comments made by prospective prime ministers, the Prime Minister, and ministers. The Government had set a target of 300,000 a year and it was believed the Government would set context on how they would be delivered nationally. It was reported that the latest announcement talked about investment zones as an answer to how houses would be delivered and where local authorities want to see the houses developed. Since the announcement, the indication was the investment zones would not be able to deliver the requirement for the level of housing need evidenced.
· Officers also stated it was highly unlikely that, with the government recently increasing the target by 35% which led to all of the work with the districts to take half of the housing need from the city, that the government would reduce the housing requirement to a level recommended in the plan. It was noted that the comments made at all the scrutiny meetings included the need to find deliverable sites for housing to tackle housing crisis. In the Plan the majority of the sites were on brownfield land but there was a need to open up other sites that were the most deliverable. It was concluded that the Plan would not be out of date until the government introduced new planning legislation, but even if they decided to amend targets through the Levelling Up Bill it would take several years for secondary legislation to come through to confirm targets, in which time the Plan would be due its five-year refresh.
· Members believed the radical plans the government had announced on planning could have an impact as well. The paper on the Housing Crisis to be discussed later in the meeting noted that additional land was needed, with Leicester running short on sites, therefore, it would be a long, up-hill struggle to reach any targets.
· Officers noted the Levelling Up bill was based upon the White Paper produced over two years ago, and that there was a danger that legislation took a long time to come to fruition, and the Levelling Up bill did not specify a new approach to housing targets so there was likely to be even more delay before the new government had chance to consult to confirm a new mechanism. In the meantime, the biggest imperative was to progress as quickly as possible the duty to cooperate which would be abolished under the Levelling Up bill, which would mean the Council would lose the ability to capitalise on the agreement with the districts, which sought to deliver just over half of the total of housing need.
· A Member was pleased that some of the pressure had been reduced on some of the green field sites within the city, but that shifting the problem of housing building to the other side on the boundary with a large amount of people moving to the surrounding areas of Leicester would still place pressures on existing services such as hospitals, GPs, etc which were already struggling to cope, and that unless there was an approach laid out in the Local Plan on how it would be addressed, it could be disastrous.
· Officers noted there was a very substantial document which was an infrastructure study which had been published at the last consultation stage, and had invited comment on health and a whole range of infrastructure topics to support the need for delivery of the Plan, and had since been updated and was included in the bundle of evidence which would be made available for viewing. The Government, and those in charge of development and partners such as the police would find that infrastructure information very useful.
· A Member stated that the impact of all the development, new housing and industrial units on the fight against global warming and climate change, with the construction industry being a major contributor to carbon emissions, which should be addressed in the Local Plan through policy and construction materials and was something the Council should be pushing. As the first environment city in Europe, Leicester should look to have minimal impact on the environment.
· With regards to global warming and carbon efficiency, officers responded that the authority was restricted by national government policies on how far the Local Plan could go in terms of setting those standards.
The Chair asked why the process had taken so long to reach its current stage. The City Mayor responded that there had been many statutory processes to negotiate and it had been a complicated process which had required careful consideration of sites, with the procedures being changed by Government on a number of occasions throughout the process. It was also worth noting that the authority were significantly some way into the process compared with other authorities.
Officers also responded that the draft plan had been due to go out to consultation just when the first lockdown was announced, following which there had been reconsideration of sites, and reconsideration of capacity work. Officers had also been working with districts on the issue of unmet need and there had been a lot of evidence and work done on where unmet need could be accommodated, which had been a huge piece of work affecting timescales.
The Chair moved and was seconded by Councillor Westley, that the Commissions’ comments and recommendations be supported, and also comments made at the Overview Select Committee meeting, and that they be taken to Full Council.
The Chair noted that the associated Local Plan policies and strategies would be brought to the next ordinary meeting of the Committee on 3rd November 2022, and in the meantime, these would be made available to all Members. He thanked Grant Butterworth and his team for all of their hard work.
1. The key local plan strategies, policies, site allocation, and provisions for consultation be noted be made available to Members for review.
2. The Overview Select Committee endorse the comments and recommendations from the joint Scrutiny Commission meetings, along with the comments and recommendations from Overview Select Committee Members to Full Council on 29th September 2022.
3. The associated Local Plan policies and strategies be brought to the next ordinary meeting of Overview Select Committee on 3rd November 2022.