ONE side-effect of the new unitary Dorset Council when it came into being in 2019 was to bring five Local Planning Authorities (LPA) into one. Some work was then needed to move from several different systems/web interfaces to a common platform but that has now been completed fairly successfully – although the chosen interface leaves some things to be desired.
However, despite moving to one council and hence one planning department, the rules governing development, that is the existing adopted Local Plans (LP), remained in effect.
In 2019, most of these plans were already somewhat long in the tooth and contained policies which, depending on your viewpoint, were no longer fit for purpose. For example, the combined Weymouth & Portland/West Dorset plan had its origins back in 2010 and was ‘refreshed’ some years later but remained substantially the same. Hence the opportunity to have a single brand spanking new Local Plan for Dorset Council was heralded as one of the justifications for combining into a unitary authority.
As stated by Dorset Council (on its website): “Adopted Local Plans guide new development and determine planning applications.
“We are working on a new Dorset Council Local Plan to be adopted around spring 2023. The adopted local plans for the former council areas are in place until the new local plan is adopted.
“Reviews of the existing local plans have stopped except for the Purbeck Local Plan. This is currently at examination.”
Unfortunately, the Purbeck Local Plan is still with the Planning Inspector and has yet to be approved.
No problem, I hear your all say, we will have a new Dorset Local Plan this very spring, Dorset Council says so!
But no, we won’t – the ruling Conservative Cabinet recently decided that Dorset Council’s inaugural Local Plan won’t now be ready until 2026. In a somewhat Kafkaesque response to LibDem councillor David Tooke when asked why the delay at a recent committee meeting, the cabinet member for planning (Cllr David Walsh) stated: “There is no delay…I don’t want the word ‘delay’ used, because there isn’t a delay.”, a view that was endorsed by Cllr Spencer Flower, Tory Leader of Dorset Council.
In the meantime, we are stuck with outdated policies which fail to adequately address climate change and environmental issues, affordable housing availability, and by being ‘out of date’, provides opportunities for developers to ‘bend’ the rules, especially if the original legacy district and borough council Local Plan areas fall behind in having a five-year housing supply.
We must get homes that are affordable built, but planning isn’t just about housing. It’s about making sure our areas grow in a way that best meets the needs of our communities, now and in the future.
That means having or building the right infrastructure to support sustainable development, and thinking ahead to accommodate changes in our way of living and working.
However, nothing is going to happen for another three years, and we will all suffer the consequences.
On behalf of South Dorset Lib Dems