Core Strategy condemned by government inspector

‘Unsound’ was the Government Planning Inspector, Ms Jill Kingaby’s decision on Test Valley Borough Council’s Core Strategy at a public meeting in Andover on Friday 1st May. The Core Strategy is the planning blueprint for the future of Test Valley, Andover and Romsey up to 2026.

“Being found ‘unsound’ means that the Core Strategy is therefore withdrawn and the Enquiry in Public (EiP) scheduled for this summer is cancelled. The Core Strategy will have to be re-drafted to meet the withering criticisms of its layout, content, faulty research and lack of vision expressed by the Planning Inspectorate. Councillors and members of the public listened in silence as Ms Kingaby detailed major faults in the council’s planning strategy and condemned the council’s failure to follow government guidelines.

The document gave a sketchy collection of facts about the borough but failed to provide a vision for the future which responded to local needs and was locally distinctive. “The policies were unlikely to meet the needs of Andover” she said. The council was also criticised for failure to work with service providers to improve local infrastructure.

There was a failure to spell out how much development would take place, where, when and by what means. The council placed too much reliance on future plans rather than giving direction itself. The document was too long; it merely replicated government policy and previous TVBC documents and contained unnecessary extra policies. Housing provision was not done according to government guidelines, was muddled and too dependant on windfall sites. Finally the Government Office of the South East (GOSE) had identified a number of inconsistencies in the policy and their advice was ignored.

The failures had all been highlighted in advice by GOSE and raised at council meetings earlier this year by Lib Dem councillor Mark Cooper. The Tory leadership ignored this and went ahead and published a Local Development Strategy a month after GOSE had instructed Test Valley to redraft it.

Speaking after the meeting Cllr Cooper said “Such incompetence is breathtaking and there is going to be a very high financial cost to meet. I warned them, again and again, that the Core Strategy was unsound. Test Valley’s response was a bemused silence. The Planning Portfolio holder, Cllr Hatley, who has presided over this mess, should resign forthwith.”

I fully agree with Cllr Cooper. I am appalled at the incompetence and arrogance which has been shown by the council leadership. They deliberately ignored advice, they misled councillors and they thought they knew better than the government inspectors. As a result the council has been made to look incompetent and the council tax payers have been left with a bill which could run into several hundreds of thousands of pounds. The entire leadership of the council, not just Cllr Hatley, should be considering its future position.

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