Dacorum Lib Dems secure prudent delay to progress of controversial Local Plan, and more scrutiny, but Conservatives block efforts to consider another public consultation
Over the winter, Dacorum ran a public consultation (known as a Regulation 18) on its draft Local Plan, provoking considerable opposition. It was very controversial, due not only to the content of the Plan, but also to the fact that the consultation was being conducted during a lockdown - when many people were unaware of it. The Lib Dems in Hemel, along with Residents Associations, Town and Parish Councils, local environmental groups, and most of Berkhamsted and Tring (set to increase in size by 55% according to the Plan!) objected strenuously to the draft plan.
These objections have now been collated by council officers. The most common ones were:
A report was presented to a recent planning scrutiny committee, but only alongside a question of whether to proceed to final stage (known as Regulation 19) or delay.
"There is a grave disconnect here," says Cllr Ron Tindall (LD, Adeyfield West and Leader of the Opposition). "It seems that there is a consensus that this draft Local Plan is deeply and fundamentally flawed. And yet the only question being considered by the Conservative leadership is whether we go directly to finalising the Plan, or tinker a bit with it first, and still then finalise it. The Lib Dems believe that it will need such a substantive overhaul that it must be put back for public consultation."
At the meeting, Lib Dems pushed for the delay of Reg 19, which was supported by the other members of the Committee. Lib Dems were also able to secure a key concession to establish a 'Task & Finish' Group which will provide scrutiny and guidance to the officers working on any changes to the Local Plan. But despite Lib Dems arguing for it, Conservatives refused to ensure that the public would be consulted on any revised Local Plan.
Cllr Sheron Wilkie (LD, Tring Central) called for a vote on whether to "consider" another public consultation (Reg 18), which the majority of Conservative Councillors voted against.
"It strikes me as absurd," she said, "that the committee accepts that the central pillars of the draft Local Plan are flawed, but seems to reject the idea that as a result, it will need to be substantially rewritten. And clearly, if it is changed significantly, the public MUST have another opportunity to have a say."
The most glaring problem with the Local Plan remains the overall numbers of new houses Government have instructed Dacorum to build. "There was wide agreement that these numbers are unevidenced and need to be challenged," Cllr Nigel Taylor (LD, Berkhamsted East) observed. "So how can we even be considering using those numbers to build on Green Belt, and grow the towns of Berkhamsted and Tring so drastically?"
Cllr Garrick Stevens (LD, Berkhamsted East) echoed this. "Residents of Berkhamsted and Tring know that the housing numbers in the draft Plan are unsustainable. But I am not sure their voices are being heard by a Hemel-centric group of Conservative Councillors. They seem unable or unwilling to challenge Government on these numbers with the robustness that residents deserve."
The Lib Dems also raised concerns over the absence of Social Housing provision in the plan. Hemel Lib Dem Cllr Adrian England (LD, Adeyfield West) pressed officers on the urgent need for SH in the area, and not just "affordable" homes as defined by developers.
"We know that left to market forces, our proximity to London means there will always be pressure to build more executive homes," Cllr England points out. "As a Council it is our duty to make sure that this doesn't dictate the housing in our Town - and make sure we still build what is needed for local residents."
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