By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Ashfield District Council is to U-turn on a “risky” decision to submit a local development plan that doesn’t meet its housing target.
The authority will instead reduce the length of its housing plan from 15 to 10 years in the hope it may “actually win” when challenging the Government over its housing targets.
Last month, councillors approved plans to remove two major settlements from its controversial housing strategy but to maintain the length of the plan at 15 years.
It was done to challenge the figure of 8,226 homes required in the district over the coming decade-and-a-half, as set out through Government calculations.
Ministers require all councils with planning powers to draw up ‘local plan’ documents setting out areas earmarked for future developments.
These normally take place over periods of about 15 years, with Ashfield being asked to draw up its strategy for between now and 2038.
Councils confirm their housing numbers based on calculations set by Whitehall, with Ashfield requiring 457 homes per year, or 8,226 over the length of the plan.
The authority has challenged these figures since the target was first revealed last year and has explored ways of avoiding having to fulfil it.
In a local plan meeting last month, councillors opted to scrap the two largest housing settlements and shave off 4,000 homes from the plan.
These are the 3,000-home greenbelt development at Whyburn Farm, Hucknall, and 1,000 homes on greenfield land at Cauldwell Road, Sutton.
The document would then be submitted to the Government with a significantly-reduced number of proposed homes over 15 years, missing the 457-per-year target.
Councillor Lee Waters (Ash Ind), who represents Hucknall North, described the decision as “risky” in the meeting last month and abstained on the vote.
However, the council’s leader has now confirmed plans to U-turn on this decision after advice from planning consultants and lobbying from some councillors.
The local plan meeting last month heard advice from the council’s planning department that the safest option would be to remove both settlements and to cut the plan period down from 15 to 10 years.
Councillors were told this option would meet the annual housing target for 10 years with a “surplus”.
This was because the two major sites would not begin construction until the final five years of the initial strategy, meaning they would not be needed in a 10-year plan.
The meeting also heard this completely-reduced plan would be the most likely option to get accepted by the Government’s Planning Inspectorate when examined on national planning policies.
If the reduced plan was assessed on a 15-year basis, it could lead to inspectors forcing the authority to implement its initial local plan in full.
This could see both the Whyburn Farm and the Cauldwell Road development forced on communities despite significant local opposition.
Confirming the U-turn, Cllr Jason Zadrozny (Ash Ind), the council’s leader, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Realistically, we think we can get this through.
“If we mess around too much, the Government could say either we’re chancing our arm and we need to go back to square one or that we need to deliver those two sites.
“We’ve gone out to consultants and they’ve said we’ve got a strong chance of beating the Government if we do this.
“I’d rather actually win than look like we’re trying to win. We’d like fewer houses and, at this stage, a win is a win.”
Cllr Waters, who campaigned alongside all Hucknall district councillors for Whyburn Farm to be scrapped, added: “We think we’ve got a better chance of success if we’re doing it over 10 years because it still meetings a housing target.
“The 15-year plan was a good idea but I think it was over-optimistic. The 10-year plan gives us a real fighting chance.”
The reduced, 10-year housing document, which will not include Whyburn Farm or Cauldwell Road, will be recommended for approval by cabinet members on December 12.
If approved, the document will go out for a final round of consultation next year and the results will be provided directly to a Government-appointed planning watchdog.