Tory plans for a developers' free-for-all took another step forward this week when Richard E Hollox BA (Hons) BSc (Econ) MPhil FRTPI FRICS, the Inspector examining Salford Council's future housing and industrial land strategy, dramatically suspended the hearings, citing Tory Minister, Eric Pickles' new statements and policies.
Referring to the ConDem Government's National Planning Policy Framework which "urges local planning authorities to boost significantly the supply of housing" and a Ministerial Statement about "the pressing need to ensure that the planning system does everything it can to help secure a swift return to economic growth", the Inspector, in a letter to Salford Council, states that "In my judgement, the Core Strategy is unsound in its present form".
He adds that the Strategy "does not demonstrate an adequate and realistically deliverable supply of housing land" and orders Salford Council to come back with "the identification of more opportunities for house building".
Citing regional needs for Greater Manchester, the Inspector notes a "persistent under-delivery of housing" and that "The evidence presented to me supports an annual housing requirement of at least 1,600 dwellings instead of the current proposed annual provision of at least 1,300 dwellings".
Of concern to Salford's community are his recommendations for more housing land to be made available in Central Salford, including Ordsall, Pendleton, plus Salford West – "such as Eccles, Swinton and Pendlebury…Worsely and Boothstown" - and his aside that "higher densities may also assist…Whether or not you also choose to reconsider the Green Belt land at Hazelhurst is entirely a matter for you".
The Inspector also believes that Salford Council's policies concerning the size of dwellings and the provision of amenity space in residential development "are somewhat over-prescriptive at present, may thwart much needed housing development and should be re-assessed." He adds that "Further consultation with the house building industry may assist".
Sitting on the sidelines, Peel Holdings and other developers and speculators must be licking their lips. Indeed, Peel Holdings did more than sit on the sidelines during the Inspector's hearings, trying its best to re-write Salford Council's planning policies (see previous Salford Star article – Peel Holdings Attempt to Hijack Salford Future click here).
The Inspector also noted "the general need to improve the quality of Salford's industrial supply to meet modern needs" and stated that he suspected this was through an "insufficient amount of sites attractive to prospective developers"… "I would suggest a re-assessment of the requirement and a spelling out in the Core Strategy of its implications. Maybe the identification of one or more broad locations for industrial and warehousing floorspace is the way forward."
The issue of `Industrial and warehousing floorspace' was one of Peel Holdings main attacks on the Corte Strategy, arguing that the Council should release Green Belt land at Barton for an expansion of the yet to be built Port Salford. With the Inspector taking his cue from Tory planning policies can the Council resist attempts to wrestle Green Belt land from its protection, both at Barton and Hazelhurst? So much for the Tories `Localism' Act…
After receiving the letter from the Inspector, suspending hearings into the Core Strategy, Councillor Derek Antrobus, Salford Council's Assistant Mayor for Planning Strategy, issued a long statement…
"We are disappointed that government policy has led the Inspector to make this decision. We maintain that the lack of housing development is less to do with planning and land supply issues, and more to do with the lack of availability of mortgage finance and the difficulties developers are having raising finance for schemes. We also believe that our figures were arrived at after extensive consultation with local communities and businesses, and that they are high figures directed at growth. One of the main messages we took on board was the need to reduce housing densities and make space for more traditional family housing.
"We do however accept that, having received the letter from the inspector, we must take on board what he has said and seriously consider the issues he has raised. If we do not, we will be left without a sound development plan and, by default, planning applications would then be judged against the National Planning Policy Framework with little consideration for local issues or concerns.
"The inspector has also questioned two other aspects of our plan. He believes that we should allocate more land for industry and believes that our policies to ensure that new homes are of a decent size and have sufficient amenity space are too restrictive.
"We will now have to consider how to proceed and to provide a timetable to review these issues. We will ensure that there is full consultation with members, the local community and business and we are prepared to enter into high level discussions with stakeholders to ensure that we can proceed in a constructive and effective way in the best interests of the people of Salford."
Salford Council has stated that it will formulate its views on how to proceed by the end of October. In the meantime, everything is on hold.
Read the full letter from the Inspector to Salford Council – click here