An independent examiner has identified a fatal flaw in the Cranleigh Neighbourhood Plan, inviting Cranleigh Parish Council to consider suspending or withdrawing their plan submission.
Cranleigh Parish Council prepared a neighbourhood development plan for the parish.
Known as the Cranleigh Neighbourhood Plan, it covers a period from 2018 to 2032, setting out a vision for the future of the parish, housing allocations and planning policies that will be used to determine planning applications locally.
As part of the neighbourhood plan process, Ann Skippers was appointed to carry out an independent examination.
After completing her initial assessment of the plan, Skippers wrote to Cranleigh Parish Council and Waverley Borough Council with her interim findings, including details of a fatal flaw in the plan, alongside a number of other matters which will significantly change the plan.
The main issues are with the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), which must be compatible with European Union obligations, so the plan can be put to a public referendum.
A screening opinion in 2016 indicated that the Plan would require SEA. This was revisited in 2018 and reaffirmed.
The independent examiner concluded that the Sustainability Report, incorporating the SEA, does not satisfactorily meet the requirements, with a number of concerns including a lack of clarity about the environmental designations of relevance to the Plan area, and no consideration of ‘reasonable alternatives’ apart from a ‘do nothing’ scenario.
Another fatal flaw in the submitted plan concerned the Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA), which was indicated in 2016 as not needed.
When the SEA screening opinion was revisited in 2018, the HRA did not appear to be reviewed. As a result, the independent examiner does not consider the HRA as robust as it might be, and concludes it should be reviewed.
In conclusion, the independent examiner Ann Skippers said:
I therefore cannot conclude the Plan meets the basic conditions in respect of European Union obligations. In particular, the SEA does not meet the requirements in my view and the HRA is not up to date and has insufficient information in it.
This means that work needs to be done on the SEA and on the HRA. This would result in the need for a further period of consultation, firstly with the statutory consultees and then secondly with the public and other consultees.
Given the current situation with the Coranavirus (Covid 19) pandemic, there may be significant delays to undertaking such consultation, but this would need to be discussed and agreed with WBC.
Other issues identified during the initial assessment of the plan included tensions with the National Planning Policy Framework, the absence of a strategic policy which establishes the to amend the Green Belt boundary, and questions over housing policy and maximum numbers the Parish Council seeks to impose.
On the plan’s intention to amend the boundaries of an Area of Strategic Visual Importance (ASVI), there is no policy to support the amendment and inaccuracy in the mapping, which means the policy would be likely to be deleted or a new policy added, requiring further consultation.
Ann Skippers concludes by suggesting Cranleigh Parish Council might consider suspending or withdrawing the plan submission, to allow for further work to take place.
Update: During an online Cranleigh Parish Council Meeting on 27th April 2020, Parish Councillors voted to suspend examination of the plan to allow for further work to be carried out on the SEA and HRA.