The unitary authority of BCP formed on 1 April 2019- a complicated merger that saw the combination of the former borough councils; Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole. The merger also saw Christchurch move away from its partner East Dorset, where the planning teams had been working together for some years, even producing a joint Core Strategy that was adopted in 2014. It has not been a smooth start for the newly formed unitary authority with various complications hindering progress.
All has not been well in the Conservative controlled Council recently. In April 2022 a full council meeting was adjourned, and a vote of no confidence was brought in May. In June 2022 another heated meeting took place about the composition of committees and the level of control different political parties have over decisions.
In addition to the leadership challenges, BCP also has a struggling planning department. For some time, the development control team has been overwhelmed due to the level of staff and caseload. At one point there were 19 vacancies in the team, which made for slow decision making and in 2020/2021 the Council’s performance fell so low that Government intervention was almost triggered.
However, we understand improvements are being made in the service and we are hoping to see more timely decisions in the future. For example, the planning department has exercised a series of ‘clearance closures’ to help tackle their backlog of applications. It has meant officers have been unavailable to take external enquiries but clearing the excess is good news for those with applications yet to be determined.
The housing land supply situation in the Borough is incredibly poor. Until the BCP Local Plan is adopted, the housing supply is calculated separately for each area and all three are below the mandatory 5-year level. The former Bournemouth Borough Council area is only able to demonstrate a 2.3 year supply. Christchurch is slightly better at 2.7 years. Poole is closest to the target with 4.1 years, which may be a result of their more recently adopted Local Plan. The penalties for failing to deliver enough housing add considerable pressure to the Council to produce new homes, giving applicants the advantage.
The Council currently has a rather long list of adopted local plans, many of which are over five years old:
BCP are at a very early stage in preparing a new Local Plan, with an issues and options consultation being held earlier this year (2022). When the new Council was formed in 2019, they were given a grace period in which to prepare their new Local Plan. The Plan was expected to be adopted by 2024. In fact the ambition had been to deliver it sooner, but this is looking increasingly unlikely.
Delivering land for new housing in BCP is challenging as it is constrained by its boundaries; the sea, and also the south east Dorset Green Belt. To deliver the quantum of housing required in the new Local Plan, BCP will need to make difficult decisions. Land may need to be removed from the Green Belt and/or negotiations with the neighbouring Dorset Unitary authority may be necessary to help facilitate some of that growth.
As we say, it has not been a smooth start, but progress is being made and it is not all doom and gloom. There are strategic opportunities to promote your sites and influence the new Local Plan as well as a chance to advance your proposals through planning applications in the interim.
If you have land in Bournemouth, Christchurch or Poole, speak to us to understand how you can take advantage of the current situation and promote your site through the planning process. The early stages of the Local Plan process are the best point to get involved and promote your sites for allocation.
If you are looking for development opportunities, BCP has provided a useful map with all the sites they have included in their five-year supply which may be beneficial in identifying potential sites for redevelopment.
BCP Council have been under significant strain for quite some time, but we still believe there are steps that can be taken to help smooth out and speed up the determining process. It is key from the outset to provide all the information the Council needs to make a decision – seems basic but compiling a planning application correctly will cut down lost time considerably. All too often fundamental information is missing from applications which is an example of where a planning consultant can add significant value to your project.
Furthermore, given the Council’s poor housing land supply performance, a ‘presumption in favour of development’ stands applicants in strong stead to progress speculative applications.
We are on hand to guide you through the planning process and will design a strategy to help achieve your goals, whether they are short or long-term objectives. Get in touch.
Lindsay Goodyear, Associate