The Town Council’s Neighbourhood Plan suffered a setback in the final report of the independent examiner after he judged that the plan was not fit to go forward.
The examiner said that the plan had procedural issues that had not been complied with. He wrote that the council should have gone back to Regulation 14 after public consultation and should have had Strategic Environmental Assessments. He also said their site assessment methodology was not as robust as it needed to be.
The council “fought tooth and nail for it” but are unable to go further with the plan according to the examiner. The council is not convinced by the examiner’s opinion, but having already spent £80,000 on the plan, mostly from grants, it does not have the funds to challenge the decision through the courts.
The collapse of the Neighbourhood Plan effectively gave the East Northants Planning Policy Committee the green light to override Oundle’s preferred housing allocations.
On 20th January, East Northants Council Planning Policy Committee gave the go ahead to add three housing sites in Oundle to its own Local Plan, ignoring the preferred allocation of housing sites detailed in the proposed Neighbourhood Plan.
The town council has since discovered that as early as 2018, the ENC revised their local plan to include the three sites in Oundle, but didn’t inform the OTC. Most importantly, the ENC needed delivery of housing requirements to be completed by a 2025 deadline, but never shared that deadline with the OTC. Knowledge of the deadline would have changed the actions of other developers in the town and the pace that was taken on the plan by the council.
The proposed developments before the ENC will use up most of the housing allocation that the town is required to provide by 2031.
The experience has left council members feeling cynical about the government’s pledge to support localism through neighbourhood plans. “The whole thing was a ridiculous exercise that cost everyone a lot of money,” Councillor Clive Humphries said.
He said the intention was good, because it gave people the right to say what was best for the local community. “But it was a smoke screen. All the neighbourhood plan did was open up to developers places that were identified that could be developed,” he said. “It’s happened nationally. It’s becoming a scam.”
Council members asked, “This begs the question, do you need a Neighbourhood Plan at all, or do we just try to get the best local plan we can?”