“This is a recipe for houses in the wrong place and a great day for greedy property developers” warned West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris.
He was speaking after South Gloucestershire Council refused to sign up to a joint evidence-led plan on building homes across the West of England known as the SDS (Spatial Development Strategy), after months of talks broke down.
The crunch point in the failed talks came as South Gloucestershire Council refused to agree to take their fair share of houses even though the West of England Combined Authority was proposing a much lower number than the Government imposed minimum target for 110,000 new homes to be built in the West of England area – comprising of Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire.
The minimum housing target for the West of England region was increased by 5,000 new homes from 105,000 to 110,000 by the government as recently as 23 March 2022 adding further pressures on local communities and green spaces and this could be raised yet further by the government.
But detailed work based on local evidence showed 92,000 homes over 20 years is both technically possible and environmentally sustainable. The Metro Mayor, backed by Bristol City Council and B&NES Council therefore planned to take the 92,000 figure to the Planning Inspectorate who check the evidence and approve or reject the SDS plan.
Now this joint plan has fallen there is a much higher risk of developers being able to rely on the “presumption in favour of development” to push through proposals.
“Across the West of England we could end up with the 110,000 government minimum figure or likely something even higher. Tory South Gloucestershire Council leader Mr Savage is gambling with the Green Belt” said the Metro Mayor. He continued: “Without an agreed plan we are very vulnerable, with new houses more likely to be built where developers can make the best possible profit. It is not their concern that new houses be built in a planned and sustainable way that respects local communities, wildlife, and our precious planet.
“The great fear is that developers won’t build houses in locations that are near transport and workplaces, and which have the least impact on the West of England’s irreplaceable countryside. Rather, developers’ motives will be making money, by choosing locations that maximise profit.
“Housing numbers in statutory plans must be evidence-led, otherwise they get thrown out by the Planning Inspectorate, as happened to the Joint Spatial Plan in 2020 which spectacularly failed under the previous Metro Mayor, Tim Bowles, and which was roundly criticised at the time.
“The inspectors look at the evidence of what housing is needed and what is deliverable and sustainable. We cannot pretend or bluff on this evidence or it will be called out as under the previous Metro Mayor. There is no point in a political fudge thinking we can fool the inspectors on the numbers as was tried before.” said Mr Norris.
“This plan was designed to find the most sustainable future for the West of England, looking exactly at where people work, where we have transport links now and where they will be in the future. It was designed to protect precious countryside and wildlife corridors. It also would have had a particular focus on affordable homes which will now also be lost.”
“Without a region-wide plan in place we are vulnerable to profit-hungry developers building houses in unsuitable places, while people who need affordable homes close to their work will be left out in the cold. It will also make it much tougher, perhaps impossible, to meet the region’s important ambitions to be carbon neutral by 2030.”
Mr Norris has written to government to explain that, unfortunately, agreement cannot be reached on a regional housing plan because of South Gloucestershire Council’s walk out and the Metro Mayor has therefore stopped all future work on it with immediate effect so as to save taxpayers’ money.