This month saw the Cabinet of the newly formed unitary authority, West Northamptonshire Council (WNC), unanimously resolved to approve the West Northamptonshire Strategic Plan Spatial Options Consultation document.
The document, which will set out a range of options for how different issues such as housing, employment and infrastructure can be addressed, was informed by previous consultations prior to the inception of West Northants Council.
The Cabinet Member for Strategic Planning, Cllr Rebecca Breese, presented the document and referred to key targets such as the need to deliver 30,300 new homes over the plan period, 48 hectares of employment land and the objective of presenting a draft plan with strategic options by June 2022.
Whilst there was an acknowledgement amongst non-Cabinet members that growth is needed, concerns were raised in respect of proposed growth to the south of the county – including a mooted 6,000 home new settlement in Old Stratford. It was flagged that there had been no engagement with local members on these options. Members also questioned how the plan can move forward without any clear position on the OxCam Arc
In response, Cllr Breese commented that all potential sites have gone through an assessment process. In respect of the Arc, she added that the Council’s Plan is work in progress, but it needs to be progressed. Relevant aspects of the Arc strategy will need to be borne in mind as the WNC Plan is progressed. She confirmed that a Policy Planning Committee will be established and terms of reference are being agreed. Crucially, this will comprise a cross-party membership and not just those from the leading Conservative group.
The Council’s Assistant Cabinet Member for Rail, Councilor William Barter, questioned the document’s effectiveness to address net-zero objectives, that the plan needs to look positively at improved public transport and queried whether the Cabinet can ensure that transport is a key consideration in the consultation responses analysis.
Perhaps the comments that drew most reaction were from Councillor Ian McCord, the former Leader of South Northants DC, who was considered a strong contender for the leadership of West Northants Council but was suspended by the Conservatives the day before the leadership election. He now sits as an Independent member.
In a stinging commentary on the document, Councillor McCord claimed it was a ‘poor piece of work’. He criticised the allocation of too much employment land, whilst on housing, he said the proposed spread is unfair, with only 6,000 allocated to Northampton itself. He considered that the proposals for his ward (Deanshanger) are “staggering” and questioned if the administration wants to write him off politically.
He added that the document does not give enough importance to the OxCam Arc and that the emerging Plan will likely be found unsound if it does not accord with a potential Arc National Policy Statement (NPS) that may be coming from Government. Finishing off, he commented that the timing of the publication of a draft WNC Plan in June 2022 may be premature if it comes before the position on the Arc is clear.
Both Cllr Breese and the Leader, Jonathan Nunn, defended the document and stressed at this point that the spatial options were not ‘personal’ in respect of Cllr McCord.
There were also contributions from Labour members who considered that the plan needs to be more ambitious in respect of the climate emergency, designing in social capital and planning for traveller sites.
What seems likely is that the soon to be established Planning Policy Committee will play a key role. The membership of this Committee and the areas of the authority they represent politically will have an important bearing on the direction of travel for the Plan’s development strategy. The Spatial Options document is now subject to an eight-week consultation starting on Monday 4th October.
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