Local Plan is not just about housing
The future of house building in Darlington has been under the microscope in recent weeks as the council’s Local Plan starts to gain momentum. Darlington Borough Council cabinet member for economy and regeneration Chris McEwan explains the process behind the Plan.
You may have seen some coverage in the last couple of weeks about the latest developments in Darlington’s Local Plan.
I know it has raised a few questions, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to explain what the council is trying to achieve with the plan and perhaps dispel a few myths.
A Local Plan is something every local authority must produce by law.
It’s a heavyweight document looking at what development is likely to be necessary in the next 20 years if Darlington is to continue to be a place that thrives both economically and socially.
A lot of the focus in recent weeks has been about housing and the number of houses we believe will need to be built over the next two decades.
“Why are the council allowing thousands more houses to be built when the roads and infrastructure of the town can’t cope with what we’ve got?” was one comment I read recently.
There are two points I can raise in response to that.
Firstly, the Plan is about so much more than housing. It considers every aspect of life in the borough, from roads and sustainable transport to provision for social care, health and education.
The Local Plan will use years of population, transport and economic data to give us a steer on likely outcomes across the next 20 years.
Our population is growing, people are living independently for longer and, as more jobs are created, more people will be needed to fill them. More people means more housing.
The second point is this - the aim of the Plan is to give the Council, with input from residents and external experts, the chance to determine where it thinks future development is appropriate for the borough over the next 20 years.
Just as importantly, it allows us to say where we believe development would not be appropriate.
Right now, that’s something we as a council don’t have much say on. The Government has stacked the cards in favour of developers so, at the moment, unless there are extremely strong grounds for saying no, councillors’ hands are tied.
The Plan, once it’s up and running, will allow us to say no to proposals that we don’t believe are in the best interests of the town.
It also gives us more sway to say what infrastructure we would want to be in place alongside any housing development such as schools, GP surgeries or road improvements.
The figure we’ve put forward – 9,840 dwellings over the 20 year life of the Plan – sounds huge and threatening.
But it’s important to remember, those houses won’t appear overnight. Some of them may not even happen at all. If things don’t pan out the way we’ve projected then house builders simply won’t build. The market will decide if the demand is there.
And, to be clear, any applications for future housing will still go through the same stringent planning process, with extra guidance from the Local Plan.
The Plan is just that - a plan. It is not set in stone, it’s not an invitation to developers to plonk 10,000 houses around the town in the next year.
It’s a guiding hand, if you like, as to where (and what) future development would be most suitable and, perhaps more importantly, not suitable.
It will continue to be updated and tweaked to reflect the economic and social realities in the borough.
The council expect to submit the Plan for examination by the end of the year. This is not back of a fag packet stuff – all of the numbers and proposals we put forward will be examined by an independent inspector appointed by the Government before it is given the go ahead.
There is an excellent website - https://www.darlington.gov.uk/localplan- that holds a lot more information and the opportunity to register to be kept informed about future consultations and progress.
I would encourage residents to take a look ahead of the next phase of consultation – which will include identifying those plots of land where development is considered suitable – and to have your say on the future direction of Darlington.