At the adjournment of the Examination in Public of the OPDC Local Plan, back in mid April, Planning Inspector Paul Clark fixed an additional day’s hearing. This was needed to consider further legal submissions by OPDC and by Cargiant/London & Regional Properties on the contested subject of the adequacy of the series of Integrated Impact Assessments published by OPDC during the course of its Local Plan.
It is well established law that Local Plans must be accompanied by a strategic environmental assessment of the impact of the Plan’s proposals. This legal requirement emanates from the European Union, and was translated into UK law by the Environmental Assessment of Plans and Programmes Regulations 2004.
In the case of the OPDC Local Plan, the Development Corporation has produced a series of Integrated Impact Assessments. These include what it considers to be adequate SEA material to meet the Regulations.
Cargiant take a different view. In an initial legal Opinion, David Elias QC has argued that the OPDC has failed to consider and identify in a transparent manner reasonable alternatives to the main strategic policies in its plan. Further deficiencies are also identified.
As a result, David Elias considers that the draft plan is unlawful due to the failure to comply with the requirements of the SEAR, has also failed to comply with guidance in the PPG (MHCLG Planning Practice Guidance) and cannot therefore lawfully proceed in its current form.
OPDC has responded in a lengthy document which includes an Opinion from Paul Brown QC and Richard Moules. This asserts that the housing and employment targets in the OPDC Local Plan were ‘decided’ back in 2015 in the Further Alterations to the London Plan (FALP) and the Old Oak and Park Royal Opportunity Area Framework (OAPF) both of which were subject to their own sustainability appraisals.
For this reason, this response from the Corporation argues that as a matter of OPDC’s reasonable plan-making judgment, there were no reasonable alternatives to the spatial strategy and quantum of housing and employment that would have been consistent with the FALP and OAPF.
Cargiant provided the Inspector, shortly before the hearing, with a further Opinion. This argues (amongst other things) that Neither the FALP nor the OAPF decided the spatial strategy and quantum of housing and employment land for inclusion in the draft plan. It also points out that there was no OPDC consultation document which explained the position now taken by OPDC that there were no reasonable alternatives to its 24,000 homes and 55,000 jobs target for Old Oak.
OONF strongly supports the argument that OPDC has incorrectly (and unwisely) insisted on staying with its original jobs and homes targets despite many changes in the planning context for Old Oak. We have made this point in our representations on all three versions of the Draft Local Plan. We have flagged up the way in which proposed density levels (and resultant building heights) have increased to unacceptable levels as the amount of land at Old Oak that is available for housing has shrunk.
At the hearing on June 6th, we pointed out that when Hammersmith & Fulham Council was preparing its own Local Plan in 2015, before OPDC took over planning responsibility for Old Oak, the Council’s Draft Plan offered alternative approaches to regeneration of the area. These included higher and lower densities, and the option of waiting until new transport infrastructure was in place before encouraging new development. In our view these were reasonable (and very sensible) alternative options.
The Inspector will be provided with further information from Cargiant and OPDC before making his decisions on whether OPDC have met the necessary legal requirements. He has already described this issue as one of two ‘potential show stoppers’ to the OPDC’s timetable for adoption of the Local Plan.
At the end of the June 6th discussions, the Inspector gave some hints that OPDC could perhaps remedy previous shortcomings by the publication of further Integrated Impact Assessment documentation. There are a number of legal judgments on whether a failure of process on Local Plan preparation can be remedied after the statutory consultation stages, so this may not prove a possible outcome.
Copies of the three legal Opinions are published on the OPDC website along with other Examination documents, and can be downloaded at the links above.