CPRE Rutland is seriously concerned about the level of risk attending acceptance of the HIF Grant at this stage. It seems that the revised local plan must be adopted by March 2022 to allow the money to be claimed, and that all work funded by the grant must be completed by March 2024.
Work cannot start, however, until the Local Plan will have been adopted. Life has moved on since the plans were first set out and the timescales are now very tight to complete all the steps needed and to develop and deliver the infrastructure improvements proposed; the entire plan could easily be seriously compromised by any further setbacks or delays.
We see three key risks:
• First, in the light of the substantial weight of adverse comments on the Local Plan throughout its development and particularly against the submission version, it could well fail at the enquiry or, at least, require significant modification; this could put the Council in breach of the HIF Grant conditions. Although the plan was submitted for examination without significant amendments, professional advice which we have obtained, and which we have previously discussed with members of the Council, suggests that this is a realistic possibility.
• Secondly, the lack of vision: without a credible statement of vision for the county – something CPRE Rutland has been calling for – there can be no certainty that the local plan or, indeed, the infrastructure changes to be funded by the HIF Grant, will actually be appropriate. Life after the pandemic, furthermore, will inevitably be rather different to the context in which the assumptions underpinning both the local plan and the infrastructure proposals were agreed. CPRE Rutland and others have previously emphasised this point.
• And thirdly, the plan is dependent on the MoD relinquishing St George’s Barracks and the DIO delivering the infrastructure proposed. The MoD might very well change its mind regarding vacating the site, delaying or even negating the redevelopment plans.
The cabinet briefing report to this meeting suggests that rejecting the grant would threaten the viability of the proposals for St George’s Barracks, and could lead to the DIO seeking to impose additional and less affordable housing; that is as maybe but the viability of a development from the landowner’s point of view is scarcely a material planning concern. As the Local Planning Authority, Rutland County Council should certainly not be allowing such inappropriate development. The report also suggests that such a move might prejudice the five-year supply of building land, reducing it to a level where developers would enjoy free reign. We would suggest that this risk could easily be mitigated by reinstating some of the potential sites defined in earlier drafts of the local plan, and adopting a much reduced scale of development for St George’s Barracks; proposals based on no more than about 350 homes, which have been put forward in the past, would still be feasible and would not require the infrastructure changes in question.
All plans carry a degree of risk, but we believe that the circumstances have now changed to such an extent since the current plans were conceived that the risks are now unacceptably high. A revised plan is needed, which does not depend on the HIF Grant and which can be shown to be much more closely matched to the future needs of Rutland. We believe that the grant should therefore be rejected and serious consideration given to a more appropriate and less risky plan for the county.
Malcolm Touchin, Chair, CPRE Rutland. Registered Charity Number 500480.