Plan for 25,000 homes needs ‘rewriting’

Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee at the start of the JSP hearing. Picture: BBC/Stephen Sumner

Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee at the start of the JSP hearing. Picture: BBC/Stephen Sumner - Credit: BBC/Stephen Sumner

Government inspectors say plans to build 25,000 homes in North Somerset need ‘rewriting’, sending council officers back to the drawing board.

The process to create the West of England Joint Spatial Plan (JSP) must be restarted and will take years to complete, according to planning inspectors Malcolm Rivett and Steven Lee.

The pair oversaw examination hearings in July for the JSP - a masterplan aiming to plug the West Country's housing shortfall over the next two decades - but they dramatically called a halt to them after identifying 'significant concerns' with the plan.

Council leader Donald Davies said the plan is 'a mess' and it may mean more homes end being built by 2036 than initially thought.

The JSP proposed significant housing development at 'strategic development locations', with 2,700 homes near Churchill and 1,900 close to Banwell.

But in a letter on August 1 Mr Rivett and Mr Lee told the West of England authorities - North Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Bristol City, and Bath & North East Somerset councils - they could not be certain the sites had not been determined on a 'robust, consistent and objective' basis.

On September 11, the inspectors published a second letter, offering further criticism of the JSP - informing the councils the plan needs 'virtual rewriting'.

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They said: "The changes we envisage necessary to the JSP are so fundamental that, in effect, the examination would have to be run again.

"It is likely the necessary main modifications would result in a radically altered plan which would need to be the subject of full public consultation.

"Written statements would need to be invited and hearings held on all aspects of the altered plan.

"Given that it has taken 16 months to get the examination to the current point, we envisage it would take at least the same amount of time, and probably considerably longer, to ultimately complete it."

The inspectors have urged the councils to review alternatives to the strategic development locations and earmark land for the possible expansions of Bristol Port and Bristol Airport, as they are vital to the region's economy.

In a joint statement in response to the letter, the councils said: "The four councils have received the inspectors' second letter.

"They will now fully consider the technical details and their implications before submitting a formal response to the Planning Inspectorate."