£2,702,000 Wasted So Far and Counting
Liberal Democrat run South Somerset District Council has spent £2.702 million preparing their "Local Plan", only to find Inspector David Hoggar ruled the plan unsound on multiple grounds.
The Local Plan is a forward plan the government requires every District Council to produce, setting out the housing, industrial workspace, and infrastructure plans, health and education needed to develop the area up until 2028. In other words, an integrated plan to allow an area to grow sensibly.
The obligation is on the council to show that they have produced a robust plan based on sound evidence rather than a wish list or decisions based on political grounds. It is this that South Somerset District Council has failed to do.
The three options suggested by the Inspector were as follows, with the council's assessments beneath:
- Continue with the unsound plan.
Not a viable option as it would be found unsound. The time and cost implications of this would be starting the process again which would take another three to five years. The estimated additional cost would be between £1,807,000 and £2,565,000.
- Withdraw the unsound plan.
Not appropriate as it would mean starting the process again with a delay of three to five years. The estimated additional cost of this would be between £1,694,000 and £2,452,000.
- Suspend the examination.
The time implications would be a delay of around six to eight months to undertake the work identified, with an estimated additional cost of £355,000 plus a further cost of £152,000 until the consultation process.
The council have decided to go for option three; however the inspector found the plan so wanting his preferred option was for the council to start again from scratch. There is a danger, as indicated by the inspector, that "tinkering" with the existing plan will still fail.
The Liberal Democrats have had since 2008 to sort this out so serious questions need to be asked as to how and why they have created such a mess and cost the South Somerset people so much money with no satisfactory result. Have any officers been disciplined for this astonishing waste of so much public money and if not is it because they had to follow directions from the ruling party?
In Wincanton we got the reduction in new housing we wanted on the basis our development had been front-loaded (i.e. we have had ours over the last six years), but although the plan allowed for a supposed five additional hectares of industrial land to provide more jobs in the town, in reality the council had identified none. The inspector agreed this was unsatisfactory and it was one of his reasons for finding their plan unsound.
The land shown in the photograph at the top is the tail end of the industrial park and owned by Abbey Manor Group, the developers who built the social housing behind. One potential employer looking at Wincanton walked away from the town when he was told the only employment land available was £250,000 per acre. Consequently that employer and his 70+ jobs went back to Mendip.
Wincanton has had in excess of 700 new houses built without any reasonably priced additional employment land coming to the market. The District Council needs to address this imbalance so that the residents of our town and their teenage children can enjoy well paid employment without having to travel elsewhere.
The really frustrating thing is the Conservative group had identified the plans failings and warned the Liberal Democrats of the unsoundness of their "Local Plan" many times; indeed as I said in the Council Chamber at a Full Council Meeting on 17th January 2013:
"We have told you time and time again but you are being arrogant, when the inspector rules this local Plan unsound do not say we didn't tell you."
Now, sadly, that has all come to pass and the people of South Somerset are being left to pick up a very large bill that will continue to grow.
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