Dorset Council Local Plan - draft options equality impact assessment (EqIA)
1. Background information
What the plan is designed to do
The Dorset Council Local Plan’s is produced in the context of the Governments National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), 2019. The purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, which is generally accepted as being ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.
The NPPF seeks to achieve three overachieving objectives; an economic objective (a strong economy), a social objective (vibrant and healthy communities) and an environmental objective (protecting and enhancing the natural and built environment).
The role of the Local Plan is to translate national planning policy and guidance into the local context. All planning applications involve decision making that balance one or more of these fundamental objectives. For example the need for more housing (a social objective) and employment land (an economic objective) against the need to protect the landscape or local wildlife (an environmental objective). The weight to be given to each objective in specific circumstances is achieved by using the policies in the Local Plan.
Development must also be deliverable (viable) and further balanced judgements must be made between the desire to bring forward public benefits (for example; affordable housing, public open space and community infrastructure) against the viability of schemes. Too great a public burden can have the unintended consequence of preventing development coming forward. The Local Plan is the vehicle by which these choices can be debated and made. Delivery of these decisions is then through the submission and determination of subsequent planning applications. The consequences of decisions only becoming apparent on the ground many years later.
The draft local plan is structured around a number of chapters which contain different elements of the strategy for the future development of the area. The policies within these chapters are interrelated and should not be viewed in isolation.
The introductory chapter sets out the purpose of the local plan as well as the seventeen year plan period (2021 – 2038). It also includes a brief contextual description of Dorset, highlighting some of the broad issues that exist in the area.
Chapter 2 of this plan sets out the overarching vision for the plan area along with strategic priorities for the development and use of land within the Dorset Council area. It goes on to set out the spatial development strategy for the local plan area, the levels of growth that will be attained and the role of neighbourhood plans in achieving this.
In managing growth, there is a need to protect the high quality environment of the plan area. Chapter 3 includes a number of policies to minimise the impact of development on the environment including policies to help tackle climate change.
There is a significant need for more homes within Dorset. The policies in Chapter 4 seek to deliver new homes to meet the needs of all who wish to live in the area.
A key element of the use and development of land relates to economic growth and the provision of job opportunities for residents. Chapter 5 includes policies to
facilitate economic development and support the economic vitality of our towns and the local economy.
Chapter 6 sets out the approach to delivering the necessary supporting infrastructure to accompany growth that will take place in the period to 2038.
The second part of the plan contains chapters for each of the main towns where the majority of development will take place. These chapters contain an overall strategy for each town and policies for individual development sites.
Having an up to date local plan in place is critical in order to shape the future of the Dorset Council area, provide for development to meet the area’s needs, and manage decisions on planning applications.
Background / context to the proposal
Cabinet agreed in June 2019 to start work on a single Dorset Council Local Plan, which would replace the current adopted local plans, rather than complete the district local plan reviews that were in preparation at the time. The council’s first Local Development Scheme (the programme for local plan preparation) was agreed at that meeting and has been revised since, in September this year.
Having an up to date local plan is critical for any local planning authority. It enables us to plan for future development to meet people’s housing, employment and infrastructure needs, in the most sustainable locations. It gives us a framework for protecting the area’s many environmental assets from any adverse effects of development. And it gives landowners, developers and communities a greater degree of certainty about where development is likely to be allowed. The local plan, together with neighbourhood plans prepared by local communities, is the first reference when making decisions on planning applications: decisions must be made in accordance with the statutory development plan unless material considerations indicate otherwise.
It is particularly important that local plans are reviewed regularly, and that they provide sufficient land to meet housing requirements. Where local plan policies are more than five years old, or when the council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of land for housing, the policies are regarded as out of date and cannot be given as much weight in decisions on applications. Much of the Dorset Council area does not have a five-year housing land supply at the moment, and the preparation of a new local plan is the opportunity to provide a more robust housing supply and make sure that we have greater control over planning decisions in Dorset. This can only be achieved, however, if we allocate sufficient land, in areas where there is market demand for housing and where development is viable, to make sure that we meet the housing requirements expected of us.
The Government has been consulting recently on potential changes to the national planning system. There have been two consultations, one on changes to the current planning system (including the details of the standard methodology for
calculating housing requirements) and the other proposing radical changes to the whole system, in the ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper. The potential changes to the current system have been taken into account in the options consultation document, which includes enough options for housing development sites to meet the revised requirement for Dorset.
If the proposals set out in the White Paper are implemented in their current form, then a very different type of local plan document will need to be prepared: much more digitally based; without general ‘development management policies’; identifying all land in the area under three categories for protection, renewal or growth; and meeting a binding national target for housebuilding. We do not however know at this stage what the final changes will be and when they will come into effect. In the meantime, it is still very important to progress this local plan, so as to minimise the risk of a longer period without an up to date plan.