DUE to the impact of COVID-19, along with the Government’s proposed planning reforms and new housing calculation methodology, Warrington Borough Council is pausing work on its Local Plan.
The delay aims to give the council time to reflect and be confident that the Local Plan submitted for examination is the right one for Warrington, given the events of this year and the effects they are likely to have for years to come.
It is anticipated that the council will now be in a position to progress with the Local Plan in the summer of 2021.
Warrington consulted extensively on its ‘Proposed Submission Version Local Plan’ in the summer of 2019, attracting approximately 3,500 written representations from members of the public, landowners, developers and stakeholder organisations, as well as statutory consultees.
In late 2019, the council informed residents that taking account of all of the representations and bringing forward the right plan, with the right infrastructure, had been a complex and challenging process and would take time.
While the council has continued to make good progress with the plan, a number of developments this year are impacting on the work:
•The global impact of the coronavirus pandemic
•The Government’s White Paper for a reformed planning system, which may bring a fundamental transformation in the way the planning system is administered.
•A separate Government consultation on a revised method of calculating housing numbers when developing a Local Plan. While it is not yet clear how the new methodology would impact on the Local Plan, it could potentially affect the number of homes required for the borough.
Warrington Borough Council Leader, Cllr Russ Bowden, said: “Our Local Plan will shape Warrington’s future – and that’s why it’s vital we get it right. We have been working hard for many months to analyse each and every one of the representations we have received. This has taken time, but it’s a crucial, central part of our commitment to balancing the housing and employment needs of the borough with protecting the green belt, while following government policy.
“We have been steadfast that roads and infrastructure must be delivered ahead of houses being completed – in particular in the proposed Garden Suburb area in South Warrington. We’ve been working closely with landowners and developers to ensure that this infrastructure can indeed be delivered, and this work continues.
“However, the landscape has now changed. Our efforts to deliver a Local Plan that works for Warrington have been impacted by developments beyond our control. The unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic – challenges which will be with us for some time to come – have undoubtedly had an impact on the way society interacts, the way the town moves, and in particular the way Warrington does business.
“This, combined with two rounds of Government consultation on planning reform and housing calculation methodology – mean that we are currently in a period of uncertainty. It would, therefore, be inappropriate to move ahead with the submission of our current plan to the Planning Inspector at this time.
“It’s only right we pause. We don’t want to rush ahead with a Local Plan that wouldn’t be the best fit for Warrington’s future. This delay will give us the chance to consider our position, as we wait for the housing and planning picture to become clearer.
“We anticipate that we will be in a position to resume our plan next summer. We will keep you updated as our plan progresses, and rest assured we will continue to put the views of local people at the heart of the plan, to help us get it right.”
The council is now preparing to upload all 3,500 representations to the Local Plan website so that people can view them. This will include ensuring as many representations as possible are accessible for people with disabilities, such as visual impairment. The representations will be uploaded and available to view over the coming weeks.
Meanwhile ocal Liberal Democrats have welcomed the decision by Warrington Council to delay work on the Local Plan. Senior Party members, Cllr Bob Barr Leader of the Council Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Ryan Bate Parliamentary and Planning spokesman and Cllr Ian Marks Former Council Leader and Vice-Chair, South Warrington Parishes Local Plan Group, issued a joint statement.
“The announcement from the Leader of the Council that Warrington’s local plan is to be ‘paused’ until next summer is bowing to the inevitable. The COVID-19 crisis, followed by the Conservative Government’s determination to tear up the planning system and the chaotic uncertainty over how minimum housing numbers should be calculated, made proceeding with the Local Plan no longer viable.
“Liberal Democrats have been arguing for a rethink all along, both at the Town Hall and through our central role in the South Warrington Parishes Local Plan Group. That rethink needs to start now.
“The ‘pause’ provides an opportunity to reconsider a future that carries public support and works for the whole of the town. As a result of COVID, we will need to think again about our relationship with the car and to ‘build back better and greener’. We need neighbourhoods which are attractive places to live. They must have green spaces, shops, schools, doctors and leisure facilities within fifteen minutes travel by foot, bike or clean public transport. The Liberal Democrats look forward to playing our part in getting the Plan right.”