As we emerge from this pandemic with a depressed local economy, planning for the future will be even more important than normal. The Sentinel reports that Stoke City Council will face extra costs over £200,000 due to Newcastle Borough Council pulling out of the joint local plan. I must inform readers that the additional cost to the smaller group of Newcastle Borough residents will be £550,000. That is in the official report that went to council cabinet on 13th January. On top of that, the council paid Lichfields Planning Consultancy to advise them on the decision.
People need also to know that as a result of this decision, Newcastle will now need to find additional land to build on, as stated in their official report. Government requires us to build 355 dwellings per year, while our latest average is only 303. We are behind Stoke in providing for the needs of North Staffordshire. It would have been better to have a Joint Spacial Strategy across the whole of North Staffordshire, as we had until 2012, but then allow the Borough to decide for itself the full details of which sites and what, to build on. In 2011/12 the coalition of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives started a plan to allocate sites and revise the joint spacial strategy. It is a shame that subsequent council parties refused to carry that forward and that is one reason why for so long we have been at the mercy of developers because we have no plan.
Rules state that the council has a duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities; they should therefore consult across the whole of North Staffordshire which is sensible for economic development and quality of life. Will they now do that ?
Government has issued a deadline of 2023 to get a plan in place. The consultants’ report says that although the Borough stands a slightly better chance of meeting that deadline on its own, the programme will be “tight but achievable”. It also says that the Borough has a historic experience of not providing adequately for young people which means we need more affordable housing to rent. Our Conservative council has so far only considered affordable housing to buy, which cuts out those on low incomes.
Issues around green spaces and infrastructure are also missing from the discussions. Newcastle should ensure that everyone lives within reasonable walking distance of open space. However, on Transport, Highways and drainage, we will need much cooperation not only across North Staffordshire but with the County Council. Current resources and legislation are very weak on this, but without it, we will not develop out of the economic hole we are in between Manchester and Birmingham.