COUNCIL officers have launched a staunch defence of a proposed local plan for West Dorset, Weymouth and Portland.
Government inspector Paul Crysell called an exploratory meeting to address concerns he had over the draft local plan that had been submitted by West Dorset District Council and Weymouth and Portland Borough Council.
Concerns he raised included cross boundary issues, data used for assessing housing needs, affordable home provision and the consultation process.
Before the inspector began his questioning at a packed meeting in South Walks House in Dorchester, director of environment for the two councils Dr David Evans took the chance to read a statement setting out their position.
He said: “We are both surprised and disappointed that you decided it necessary to hold an exploratory meeting because we believe that these matters can be properly resolved within through the examination process.”
Dr Evans added: “I have reflected on the matters you have raised and ask myself this simple question: what more should we have done?
“Even with the benefit of hindsight I have concluded that we have done everything we should.”
He challenged one particular element of the inspector’s comments that seemed to indicate the councils changing decisions in response to feedback from members of the public as a ‘flaw in the processs’.
Dr Evans said: “There is little point in consultation if we fail to consider the comments raised and then where appropriate make changes to the plan.”
Mr Crysell stated that the whole purpose of the meeting was to get more detail from council officers on certain areas where he had concerns and decide whether the plan should proceed to the examination process.
He said: “I have identified some aspects of the plan which give me reason to believe it might be unsound in its present form.”
Mr Crysell questioned how robust the figures the council had used for its projections of housing needs were.
Consultant Dr Keith Woodhead, who was appointed by the council to assess the data, said: “I’m satisfied that the plan has been put together in a robust fashion and its assumptions are very sound.”
Mr Crysell also asked about cross boundary co-operation with other authorities, particularly Purbeck District Council and East Devon Council.
His other questions centred around affordable housing, supplementary planning documents and the consultation process.
Mr Crysell said he would not be making a decision about whether to progress the plan to examination at the meeting, but would make his decision known in the next few days.
His options include asking the councils to make changes to the plan but continuing with the examination process, suspended the process or asking the councils to withdraw the draft local plan and resubmit a new plan.
Robert Gould, leader of West Dorset District Council, said: “The district council has taken the bold decision to prepare a joint plan with Weymouth and Portland Borough Council which uses up to date data to cover the whole housing market area.
“We have listened to our residents and made changes to develop a plan which meets all the legal requirements.
“We are confident that the plan we have developed is sound and any outstanding issues the inspector may have can be resolved at public examination.
“Any delay would be very damaging for our area.”