It has been four years in the making, and at today’s full council meeting, the Local Plan was debated. This plan will be the cornerstone of Cornwall Council’s planning strategy for the next 17 years. The importance of the Local Plan cannot be stressed enough; as without one, it would leave Cornwall open to a development free-for-all.
Most if not all of the process and todays debate has been on the number of dwellings within this plan. If these numbers are set too low, the plan will be rejected by Government. This would leave Cornwall without that all important plan. The advice given is a plan with numbers less than 47,500 would be in grave danger of falling foul of the Government rules. We may not like it, but it is the Governments ball, and they set the game.
The government guidance states the headline figure should be evidenced using a Strategic Housing Market Needs Assessment or SHMNA unless better evidence is available these should start with data from the Office of National Statistics. There is currently no other defensible evidence and the 47,500 is the lowest figure that aligns with this guidance and our officers feel they can robustly defend this figure.
Local Plans elsewhere have been rejected for proposing as little as 1 and 2% lower than ONS projections. Out of the 64 other Local Authority Local Plans, only three have managed to defend a lower figure, and all these were told an early review was to be undertaken on those numbers. Interestingly, no Local Plan in the last year has managed to defend a plan with lower numbers.
Of course, this does not stop opportunism, as the Tory Group submitted an amendment for a much lower figure of 33,000 That is 30% lower than the evidence supports. In some of the biggest Damascene conversions I have witnessed in the chamber, many of the previous higher figure zealots, now spoke in favour of the lower figure. Furthermore, the whole amendment came unstuck when the Tory Group Leader admitted their numbers could actually turn out to be 36,000 or 38,000. Talk about undermining your own groups amendment.
A vote was taken on the amendment with 28 Councillors voted in favour of the lower number, with 78 against. There was no abstentions. With a little more debate, a vote was taken on the higher figure of 47,500. This vote resulted in 62 for, 31 against and 10 abstentions.
I will point out that the 47,500 includes extant permissions and houses that have been built between 2010 and the present day will be deducted from the headline figure and not added. This means that of the plans target, 27000 of these have already been granted planning permission of which over 7,000 have been built. That leaves 20,500 dwellings for the next 17 years.
The Local Plan will now be subject to public consultation, and then after this has been completed, with be subject to the gaze of the Planning Inspectors. Only after this will Cornwall have an adopted and robust Local Plan.