Liberal Democrats call for another public consultation on Dacorum's Local Plan

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Dacorum Borough Council ran a 13-week consultation so the public could share their thoughts on the draft Local Plan

Dacorum Liberal Democrats are calling for the draft Local Plan for Dacorum to be put out for public consultation again.

Over the winter, Dacorum ran a public consultation (known as a Regulation 18) on its draft Local Plan, provoking considerable opposition.

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The Lib Dems says the draft Local Plan was controversial, not only due to the content of the plan, but also to the fact that the consultation was being conducted during a lockdown.

Dacorum's Local PlanDacorum's Local Plan
Dacorum's Local Plan

But the leader of the borough council said the consultation received a record number of responses from the public

On November 27, Dacorum Borough Council launched the consultation on the Emerging Strategy for Growth – the next step to creating the new Dacorum Local Plan 2020-2038, and encouraged people to have their say in the consultation.

To encourage more people to have their say, the council extended the deadline for feedback by three weeks - resulting in a 13-week consultation.

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Leader of Dacorum Borough Council, Cllr Andrew Williams, said: "Dacorum Borough Council Launched our draft local plan consultation (Regulation 18) on 27 November 2020, we are required to run these for a minimum of six weeks, recognising the challenges of running the consultation at this time we planned for a 10-week consultation which we extended by a further three weeks making a total of 13 weeks.

"Despite the call from the Lib Dems not to hold the consultation we received over 3,500 responses which is the highest we have ever received on a local plan consultation.

"Following the close of the consultation we have been collating the responses which as expected have raised concerns about the scale of development that would be required to meet the

Government target for Dacorum, but we have to use the Government figures as a starting point for our plan."

Objections to the plan

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The Lib Dems, along with Residents Associations, Town and Parish Councils and local environmental groups objected to the draft plan.

These objections have now been collated by council officers. The most common ones were:

- Government mandated growth number for this area is much too high, unevidenced, and based on out-of-date national statistics

- The large-scale building on Green Belt is not justified and insufficient work has gone into identifying brownfield sites

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- Existing infrastructure and transport are insufficient to sustain more growth, but the Plan says little about how those will be improved

- No consideration of how the pandemic may have changed the commercial and residential realities of this area.

A report was presented to a recent planning scrutiny committee, but only alongside a question of whether to proceed to the final stage (known as Regulation 19) or delay.

Cllr Ron Tindall, ward councillor for Adeyfield West and Leader of the Opposition, said: "There is a grave disconnect here. It seems that there is a consensus that this draft Local Plan is deeply and fundamentally flawed.

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"And yet the only question being considered by the Conservative leadership is whether we go directly to finalising the plan, or tinker a bit with it first, and then finalise it.

"The Lib Dems believe that it will need such a substantive overhaul that it must be put back for public consultation."

Public consultation

At the meeting, Lib Dems pushed for the delay of Reg 19, which was supported by the other members of the Committee.

Cllr Ron Tindall added: "Lib Dems were also able to secure a key concession to establish a 'Task & Finish' Group which will provide scrutiny and guidance to the officers working on

any changes to the Local Plan.

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"But despite Lib Dems arguing for it, Conservatives refused to ensure that the public would be consulted on any revised Local Plan."

Cllr Sheron Wilkie, ward councillor for Tring Central, called for a vote on whether to "consider" another public consultation (Reg 18), which the majority of Conservative Councillors voted against.

She said: "It strikes me as absurd that the committee accepts that the central pillars of the draft Local Plan are flawed, but seems to reject the idea that as a result, it will need to be substantially rewritten.

"And clearly, if it is changed significantly, the public must have another opportunity to have a say."

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Cllr Andrew Williams said: "The Lib Dems keep asking for a new regulation 18 consultation without following the correct process for reviewing the responses from the recent consultation which require us to give full consideration to the responses and consider any changes we wish to make to the draft plan.

"Once we have done this we will then decide based on legal advice if a further regulation 18 consultation is required prior to a regulation 19 consultation which is the final stage before submitting the plan to the government inspector who will hold a public examination of the plan."

New houses

The Lib Dem group says the most glaring problem with the Local Plan remains the overall numbers of new houses Government have instructed Dacorum to build.

Cllr Nigel Taylor, ward councillor for Berkhamsted East, said: "There was wide agreement that these numbers are unevidenced and need to be challenged.

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"So how can we even be considering using those numbers to build on Green Belt, and grow the towns of Berkhamsted and Tring so drastically?"

Cllr Garrick Stevens, ward councillor for Berkhamsted East, echoed this. He said: "Residents of Berkhamsted and Tring know that the housing numbers in the draft Plan are unsustainable.

"But I am not sure their voices are being heard by a Hemel-centric group of Conservative Councillors.

"They seem unable or unwilling to challenge Government on these numbers with the robustness that residents deserve."

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Cllr Andrew Williams said: "At every stage Conservatives Councillors have expressed our opposition to the number the government’s standard methodology has imposed on Dacorum and will be using the evidence from the recent consultation to help us in forming a new plan which will include reviewing our the use of brownfield and Green Belt land.

"It is incorrect to say that the only question of the Conservative Leadership is whether to go directly to finalising the plan or tinker first and then finalise it, we intend to have a much more

comprehensive review passed on good planning policy rather than the Lib Dem approach of criticising our draft plan but offering no positive suggestions or constructive engagement instead when challenged on how they will deliver the 300,000 homes per annum promised in their 2019 General Election Manifesto they offer no credible answers beyond statements such as right homes in the right place not wanting to acknowledge that that level of housebuilding will require a lot of land.

Social Housing

The Lib Dems also raised concerns over the absence of Social Housing provision in the plan.

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Cllr Adrian England, ward councillor for Adeyfield West, pressed officers on the urgent need for social housing in the area, and not just "affordable" homes as defined by developers.

He said: "We know that left to market forces, our proximity to London means there will always be pressure to build more executive homes.

"As a council it is our duty to make sure that this doesn't dictate the housing in our Town - and make sure we still build what is needed for local residents."

Cllr Andrew Williams said: "As regard the comment on Social Housing as Leader I have made the delivery of Social Housing one of the main objectives of our administration and we are one of only a few council that have a policy of delivering new housing for social rent as where neighbouring Lib Dem Councils have transferred their housing stock so are no longer in a position to delivery new social housing.

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"In Summary Conservatives are committed to consulting the public at every stage of the plan process and will be considering the timescale once we have all of the feedback from the consultation in the meantime officer are continuing to work on reviewing all aspects of the plan to ensure we are making best use of land to strengthen our challenge to the figures from government with the robustness our residents would expect."