Date Published: 13 September 2021
Last week, all 27 Rutland County Councillors sat for a special Full Council meeting to determine the future of our Local Plan. After three hours of discussion and a narrow vote, the decision was taken to withdraw the Local Plan from independent examination and rewrite it.
At the centre of this was St George’s Barracks and the question of whether councillors should revisit an earlier decision to reject £29.4million of Government housing infrastructure funding. This money was needed to support the development of a new garden community at St George’s, after the army moves out. Turning down this critical funding after Full Council had previously approved the Local Plan for examination made both St George’s and the Local Plan unviable. Without a way forward, the only thing we can do is return to the beginning and start again.
The importance of having a valid Local Plan can’t be overstated. Local Plans contain policies that help to decide whether planning applications are approved or rejected. They allocate land for certain types of development and set out what infrastructure is needed to support new homes and businesses.
Local Plans provide a framework for the neighbourhood plans that belong to individual towns and villages. They quantify an area’s housing needs, state requirements for protecting the environment, list measures for addressing climate change, and so on.
In the four or five years that it will take to rewrite our Local Plan, Rutland will be without a clearly defined housing strategy or five-year housing supply. This is a huge risk. We will need to work extremely hard to fend off speculative development in inappropriate areas and we will not always succeed. Facing up to this stark reality, we must now invest all our energy into creating a new Local Plan that will deliver the homes, jobs and infrastructure that Rutland needs.
Several councillors and members of the public who spoke at last week’s Special Council meeting mentioned the Future Rutland Conversation that was launched in April and aims to produce a new shared vision for the county – a vision based on the things that local people have said are most important to them. The next stage of this process will see a draft of the Vision published later this month, for people to read and comment on.
I am still hugely encouraged by the way in which thousands of residents have engaged with the Future Rutland Conversation, so far. Much like Future Rutland, the need to produce a new Local Plan – although fraught with challenges – presents an opportunity to come together and focus our collective efforts on shaping best possible future for the county.
Looking ahead, it’s vital that people who held vastly differing views on the previous Local Plan now work together in a positive and constructive way, both to create a new Local Plan and manage the difficulties that will arise while we operate without one.
Every decision carries both opportunity and risk. After last week, we at least know the path before us and what we need to do. However, we will not be able to prepare a new Local Plan and deliver the things that Rutland needs to sustain itself unless we adopt the right approach. We must challenge each other constructively, based on the facts. We must have respect for each other and the experts who advise us.
We must put differences aside and work for the benefit of the whole county. We must also balance risk against probability. Some solutions can offer the best possible outcome without being perfect, while unintended consequences are often the most severe.
Councillor Oliver Hemsley, Leader of Rutland County Council