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QC’S Advice on Local Plan “Wait for Officers’ Evidence’

Leader’s statement warns Councillors – officers must be allowed to present the evidence on our Local Plan

At a Full Council meeting on 26 February 2020, the Leader of the Lib Dem/Residents’, Cllr Stuart Selleck, gave a clear message to councillors of all parties:

“Planning officers are focusing on completing the evidence base for the Local Plan. The intended timetable will see a draft plan produced by officers for Members to consider towards the end of June. You have all be sent invitations for two discussion groups and one all member briefing in June. I urge you to attend all three meetings.

This administration has asked officers to find as much good, irrefutable evidence as possible so that we can challenge the ridiculous housing numbers, protect our Green Belt and protect the character of our towns and villages. 

I understand from officers that it is still too early for them to advise councillors on the content of the draft plan, but I must stress that when the officers do present the completed evidence base and proposed draft plan in the summer, the decision on the content of that plan and the growth strategy for Elmbridge will be made by the administration, by councillors, by all of us here.

I am aware that some councillors feel under pressure to make a decision on the growth strategy for the Local Plan now and that they want to offer residents comfort that the Green Belt will be protected.  But to do so would be both irresponsible and detrimental to our chances of demonstrating to an inspector that our plan is sound.

Our senior Planning QC has confirmed to us that we have provided assurances in our adopted Local Development Scheme and Statement of Community Involvement that the decision making and governance of the Local Plan will be carried out as stated in these documents. Any decision or motion given now would be contrary to the key principles set out in the Statement of Community Involvement and the governance and decision making arrangements set out in the Local Development Scheme.

The QC also confirmed that any decision, now, about the content of the Local Plan would be adverse to the interests of the council. It could be legally argued that it would be predetermination of a critical issue.  It could also be legally argued that the council had fettered its discretion and that it would be an unlawful decision as it would be based on insufficient information. 

The full evidence base is yet to be completed; we do not have the officers’ professional advice and I need to remind you that we are still out to public consultation on the final Regulation 18 document.  

As members of the opposition should know full well, making any such decisions at this stage would put the draft Local Plan which we submit to the Inspector at heightened risk of legal challenge with a higher chance of the Local Plan being found unsound by failing to accord with the tests of soundness as set out in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Watch his speech here

Residents should take comfort from the Liberal Democrats and Residents’ parties track record of making the right decision at the right time. It was this administration that successfully defended an application to build an extension into the Green Belt at Drake Park and it was this administration that removed the 2016 Local Plan Preferred Option to build in the Green Belt. At the full council meeting 

A CLEAR MESSAGE

Stuart Selleck’s statement was a clear message that, no matter how much they might like to tell the officers what to do in the Local Plan, councillors risk the charge that they have decided what it should contain before they see the evidence.

He reiterated the long commitment that Elmbridge’s Liberal Democrats Party and Residents’ parties have held