COUNCIL chiefs are considering their next move after a government inspector criticised housing figures in a long-term planning strategy for being too low.
The intervention threatens to put back the local plan process even further.
Paul Crysell held an ‘exploratory’ public meeting last month over concerns he had with the joint draft local plan submitted by Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and West Dorset District Council.
Council officers launched a staunch defence of the plan at the meeting, expressing their ‘surprise and disappointment’ that the inspector had found it necessary to do exploratory work.
The plan, which covers up to 2031, is a blueprint for future growth identifying housing and employment sites and setting planning policies.
Mr Crysell has since written back to the councils stating he is not convinced about the projections of how many homes should be built in future and called for up-to-date assessments.
He said the overall housing provision of up to 13,180 units is different from the over 18,000 identified in a Regional Strategy.
The strategy has since been revoked and circumstances have changed but Mr Crysell said: “I am not convinced that the housing evidence is sufficiently robust to support current plan proposals.”
He goes on to say there has been updates to guidance and he doesn’t consider council evidence is consistent with national planning framework.
Mr Crysell adds there is a ‘danger’ the councils are planning to meet a projection rather than responding to requirements based on an appropriate assessment of housing needs.
He says there are now three options for the councils – stop and carry out more work, withdraw the plan and resubmit it later with updated housing projections, or continue with the examination of the plan and risk it being called ‘unsound’.
Mr Crysell adds: “I do not underestimate the difficulties of predicting how housing needs may change during the plan period. However, it is imperative to have up-to-date and adequate evidence to support the councils’ strategies for housing, employment and other uses which are required.”
IN A joint statement, the leader of West Dorset District Council, Robert Gould, and environment spokesman for the borough council, Ian Roebuck, said: “We are encouraged the inspector says most matters are capable of resolution, but he does have continuing concerns about the councils’ assessment of housing needs.
“He has asked the councils to consider three options.
“We are pleased that the inspector made positive comments at the meeting about our approach to consultation and cooperation with surrounding councils.
“We are now considering the best way forward to deal with his remaining concerns around the level of housing provision.
“The matter will be considered next month by the management committee of Weymouth and Portland Borough Council and the executive committee of West Dorset District Council.”