Joint Spatial Plan to be sent back to the drawing board?

The Joint Spatial Plan, which outlines how 105,000 new homes would be built in the West of England (WECA) region until 2036 has been dealt a serious blow, after government planning inspectors uncovered serious flaws as part of the development process that has transpired over the past five years. In a letter addressed to the WECA authorities last week, the planning inspectors delivered a damning verdict.

The main bone of contention for planning inspectors’ Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee was that the JSP failed to demonstrate that the chosen Strategic Development Locations (SDLs), had “been selected for inclusion in the plan, against reasonable alternatives, on a robust, consistent and objective basis”. As a result, it was indicated that a significant level of work would be needed to ensure that the JSP could be found to be sound. To this end, future examination sessions due to be held in September and October have been cancelled, with new rounds of public consultation and policy decisions recommended instead.

The decision represents a major setback to Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset (B&NES), South Gloucestershire and North Somerset councils who have been involved in the JSP development process, which is the first such joint plan of its type to go before government inspectors. How the councils will choose to move forward, and what the possible ramifications could be in terms of future developments in the west of England are all up for debate at the present time. Overlay this with the recent change of ruling administrations at North Somerset and B&NES following May’s local elections, and the uncertainty around the future of the plan becomes even greater.

The Inspector’s recommendations have been greeted with a mixture of glee and disappointment depending on which side of the development divide you stand. Campaign groups across the WECA region, such as Thornbury Residents Against Poorly Planned Development (TRAPP’D), are now calling for an emergency debate in South Gloucestershire, with a representative saying there was no way the JSP could recover “from such a damning conclusion”. The WECA councils seem to disagree, however, indeed they are doubling down on their belief in the JSP. A spokesman for all four authorities said after the news had broke that, "Whilst the letter is disappointing and we don’t underestimate that there is work to do, we also acknowledge this is part of the plan-making process and particularly for an ambitious joint plan of this nature”.

Certainly, things are now more volatile as the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat group at South Gloucestershire Council, Cllr Maggie Tyrell, expressed concern that communities will be “swamped by more speculative development”. This is compounded in South Gloucestershire by the lack of an adopted Local Plan, with the document still in the works, making the need for the JSP even more pressing.

MPC will be monitoring the progress of the JSP in the coming weeks. Should you wish to discuss this in more detail, and how it affects planning and development across the region, please get in touch via western@mpc.email.

Matthew Roberts - Account Executive

The YIMBYMPC