West Berkshire Council have launched a further consultation on their draft Local Plan which will help shape the district up to 2039. This ‘Regulation 19’ draft Plan sets out the Council’s proposed policies, against which future development proposals will be assessed. The document has been published for public consultation and is open for comment until Friday 17th February 2023.
A draft Policies Map has now been produced which outlines the Council’s proposed settlement boundaries, as well as employment and residential site allocations. This latest consultation, which has been a long time coming, follows earlier rounds in 2018 and as far back as 2010. It now takes account of views expressed at these earlier stages.
Key proposals from the draft Plan that are likely to be of interest to both local people and key stakeholders include:
- Policy SP1, which sets out the Spatial Strategy, has been amended to remove the presumption in favour of sustainable development within settlement boundaries, instead expressing general support which does not carry so much weight in decision making.
- Whilst previous versions of the draft Plan supported some redevelopment of Previously Developed Land in the Countryside for residential purposes, the draft policy has now been deleted and these references now only relate to development associated with the rural economy.
- The policy for Replacement Dwellings in the Countryside would now require that the replacement be on the footprint of the existing dwelling unless an alternative siting can be shown to offer environmental benefits or positive outcomes.
- Wording has been added to the Residential Extensions policy to ensure the retention of “high quality usable private amenity space” for the existing dwelling.
- Housing Targets have been reduced from 9,775 down to 9,146. This works out as a target figure of 538 new homes per annum, rather than 575.
- Prior approvals for the change of use from office to residential are no longer excluded from the Windfall Housing calculation.
- Change of Use of Employment Sites would require evidence of 6 months marketing with no ‘realistic offer of sale or rent’ being made in that time. This doesn’t reconcile with the fact there are already permitted development rights that allow the change of use of many such employment sites.
- Custom and Self Build Plots are no longer required to be made available as part of major developments on larger allocations.
- Gypsy, Traveller and Travelling Show people evidence has been updated. The data shows there is a shortfall and this will be addressed via preparation of a separate Development Plan document.
- New policies on Tranquillity, Light Spill and Glare –have been proposed similar to those seen in the South Downs National Park. The policy may require additional technical work for planning applications, even small-scale ones.
- The policy which supports residential space above ‘shops and offices’ has been broadened to apply to spaces above all non-residential uses.
- The Housing Mix policy has been amended to trigger at 10 units rather than 11.
- Around 10% of market housing should meet Wheelchair Accessibility Standards. This reflects the Local Housing Need Assessment 2022 which shows a need for 1200 accessible and adaptable homes.
- Affordable Housing policy has been tightened so that instead of being ‘sought by negotiation’, it will be ‘required’. The proposal also includes new wording around Open Book Viability Assessments and other “exceptional cases” where policy compliant affordable housing cannot be secured.
- Equestrian policy has added reference to the need to consider the impact of traffic impact on rural roads.
- New Farm Diversification Policy DM36 supports some diversification so long as it is subsidiary to the main agricultural operation in physical scale and environmental impact. The policy is aimed at farm shops, leisure tourism and renewable electricity generation schemes.
- 10% Biodiversity Net Gain is required in line with the Environment Act, which will come into effect later this year. The new policy seeks onsite Biodiversity Net Gain in the first instance and requires the submission of an Ecological Impact Assessment for all development to demonstrate compliance. Whilst the wording accepts the level of detail should be proportionate to the scale and impact of the development, it does still indicate that householder and minor applications would need to submit a Preliminary Ecological Appraisal. These are produced by an ecologist, thereby adding to the costs of planning applications for even small scale development.
- Biodiversity Policy also requires a sequential approach to proposals which could harm sites of local importance.
- The Plans’ vision (para 3.2) has been amended to prioritise “carbon neutral housing” as opposed to “housing” in general.
- A 63% reduction in carbon emissions will be required for all developments of one or more dwellings, introducing the need for Energy Statements within applications. The policy seeks ‘net zero operational carbon development’ and, once confirmed by the Government, there will be a requirement to achieve the Carbon Target Emission Rate set by the Figure Homes Standard.
- The ‘Nutrient Neutrality Zone’ is shown on a map of constraints, referencing to the need demonstrate nutrient neutrality in parts of the district.
- Policy SP7 seeks to raise the quality of design, referencing the 2021 National Design Code rather than the local principles previously set out in the Plan. There is also a requirement to meet the Nationally Described Space Standards.
This stage of the process is a key opportunity to influence the contents of the new Local Plan and ensure your interests are promoted. Bell Cornwell have practiced across West Berkshire for many years and have an in-depth understanding of planning issues affecting the area. We have a successful track record working with the Council to secure on behalf of landowners.
If you would like to make comments on the proposals or discuss any potential impact on your property, we would be delighted to discuss with you further.