Issues and Options Document
Why do we need a new Local Plan?
1.1 The new Local Plan is a planning policy document which will guide how Rochford District will look over the next 20 years, covering a range of topics including the challenge of balancing the need to deliver homes and jobs supported by the necessary infrastructure, whilst protecting the local environment. The new Local Plan is an important document in setting out a shared vision for the future our district.
1.2 We already have a number of adopted policy documents which form the current local development plan for the district up to 2025, including a Core Strategy, Allocations Plan, Development Management Plan and four Area Action Plans. These documents were adopted between 2011 and 2015 and each went through several stages of consultation and engagement before being approved by an independent planning inspector. However changes at the national and local level – including changes to national planning policy and guidance, and new evidence – mean that there is a need to review these documents to ensure that they are robust, effective and, most importantly, up-to-date. We are therefore at the early stages of reviewing our current local development plan; with this document, the Issues and Options Document,being the first stage in this review process.
1.3 If we do not have a new Local Plan that is up-to-date it is possible that – depending on the scheme – we could lose the ability to control and plan for change and growth in the future. Although we have our current local development plan up to 2025 this is in need of updating to reflect changes in circumstances since its adoption. Without an up-to-date plan we may not have a robust policy position that we can assess planning applications against. Therefore, if we reject a scheme without good reason, developers could successfully appeal that decision. National planning policy in the form of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) places great emphasis on planning decisions to be made in accordance with the local development plan. However the NPPF also says, for example, that there should be a presumption in favour of sustainable development particularly in decision-making where a plan is absent, silent or the relevant policies are out-of-date. It is therefore vital that we set out a clear plan for the future of our district.
What is the Issues and Options Document?
1.4 The Issues and Options Document is the first stage in the review of the current local development plan for the whole of Rochford District. It identifies a series of strategic priorities and objectives to support the draft vision for the future of our district; these are supported by key planning issues that have been identified for a number of themes, and potential options to deal with these issues. This document considers how we can plan for growth in the future – particularly beyond the current plan period of 2025 – and deliver the necessary infrastructure to support this. Although different options are considered, specific sites are not identified in this document; more detailed planning policies will evolve as each consultation stage on the new Local Plan progresses.
1.5 This document is divided into a number of key sections:
- Our Characteristics
- Our Spatial Challenges
- Our Vision and Strategic Priorities
- Delivering Homes and Jobs
- Supporting Commercial Development
- Delivering Infrastructure
- Supporting Health, Community and Cultural Facilities
- Protecting and Enhancing our Environment
- Detailed Policy Considerations
1.6 As part of addressing the issues that have been identified we are continuing to build the background evidence to support and inform the preparation of the new Local Plan. Some evidence base documents have been completed but a number of documents will be prepared and updated throughout the plan-making process.
1.7 The Issues and Options Document has been produced to encourage the involvement of local communities, businesses and other stakeholders at the beginning of the plan-making process, so that their views can be taken into account when drafting the new Local Plan. This is the first stage in the preparation of the new Local Plan and we are now asking for your views on the issues and options that have been identified; however there will be more opportunities to be involved in the future.
How have you assessed the sustainability impacts?
1.8 The NPPF states that Local Plans are key to delivering sustainable development. Development is broadly considered to be sustainable where it strikes an appropriate balance between environmental, economical and social factors to meet the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
1.9 Sustainability Appraisal is a technical background document which assesses the potential environmental, economic and social implications – i.e. the sustainability – of an emerging plan and its proposed policies. Undertaking this type of appraisal is a key part of the plan-making process, and is pivotal in addressing the legal requirements of the Strategic Environmental Assessment or SEA Directive (EU Directive 2001/42/EC). The Sustainability Appraisal process must be undertaken correctly otherwise this can expose a Local Planning Authority to legal challenge, which could threaten the delivery of a Local Plan.
1.10 The preparation of a Sustainability Appraisal is ongoing, and it should be prepared, consulted upon and updated at each stage of the plan-making process. The first stage is the preparation of a scoping report, which sets out the context, objectives and approach of the appraisal; and identifies the relevant environmental, economic and social issues and objectives. A draft scoping report was prepared by independent consultants, AECOM, for the new Local Plan. Historic England, Natural England and the Environment Agency as statutory consultees were formally consulted on the draft between 19 December 2016 and 31 January 2017 as required by the Planning Practice Guidance (PPG). The draft scoping report was published on our website, and residents, business and other stakeholders on our mailing list were also directly consulted.
1.11 The revised scoping report has formed the foundations for the second phase of the Sustainability Appraisal process to support the preparation of the new Local Plan. A Draft Sustainability Appraisal has been prepared to accompany the Issues and Options Document. As the plan-making process progresses considerations within the Sustainability Appraisal will be integrated throughout to ensure that the proposed approach is the most appropriate from a sustainability perspective. We are now seeking your views on the Draft Sustainability Appraisal which assesses the sustainability implications of the Issues and Options Document. This document is available to view on the Rochford District Council website and paper copies are available in local libraries and Council reception areas. Your comments on the Draft Sustainability Appraisal are welcomed and will be used to help inform the preparation of the Sustainability Appraisal as we move forward with the plan-making process.
How have you assessed the environmental impacts?
1.12 We are required to carry out a Habitat Regulations Assessment or HRA which assesses whether an emerging plan and its proposed policies would have an adverse effect on European habitats. European habitats include Special Protection Areas (SPA), Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and Ramsar sites. The Crouch and Roach estuaries, for example, are designed as an SPA and SAC. Where an adverse effect on a protected site is identified, the Habitat Regulations Assessment will identify appropriate mitigation measures. A Draft Habitats Regulations Assessment will accompany the next phase of the plan as options are narrowed down, however the Draft Sustainability Appraisal provides some commentary in relation to impact on habitats to support the Issues and Options Document.
1.13 Other assessments will form part of the evidence relating to environmental considerations, including a Local Wildlife Sites (LoWS) assessment to identify areas of key ecological importance, a landscape character assessment to better understand valued local landscapes and an Environmental Capacity Study.
How have you worked with key partners?
1.14 There is a requirement for Local Planning Authorities, as set out in the Localism Act 2011, to work with relevant bodies on strategic cross boundary issues, this is known as the Duty to Co-operate. Relevant bodies include Rochford District Council, Essex County Council and neighbouring Local Planning Authorities. Such engagement should be constructive, active and ongoing, and although there is not a requirement for relevant bodies to agree, we are required to demonstrate a level of cooperation. The Duty to Co-operate, and how effective this has been, will be considered by a Planning Inspector at the independent examination stage of plan-making. Early and ongoing engagement with relevant bodies is therefore vital to ensure that this does not hinder the delivery of the new Local Plan later on in the process.
1.15 We have been working in partnership with neighbouring Local Planning Authorities and Essex County Council over a number of years; as evidenced in our Duty to Co-operate Topic Paper. This includes on-going engagement through one-to-one and South Essex planning officer, Member and Head of Service meetings, workshops on strategic cross-boundary issues and the preparation of joint evidence base work. We have been actively involved in the Local Plan consultations of other Local Planning Authorities within South Essex, as well as neighbouring Local Planning Authorities in west and central Essex and London. This is to ensure that our district's interests including its environment, infrastructure, economy, and local communities are appropriately considered and protected. We have also been involved in the preparation of the minerals and waste planning policy documents, which have been prepared jointly by Essex County Council and Southend Borough Council as the responsible local planning authorities. This includes the Essex Minerals Local Plan 2014 and the Essex and Southend-on-Sea Waste Local Plan 2017.
How can local communities get involved?
1.16 Community engagement and feedback will form an important part of the plan-making process. A programme of early community engagement workshops were rolled out over the summer of 2016 to inform the themes identified in this Issues and Options Document. The workshops were well received overall and have formed an important engagement starting point with local communities which will be taken forward at each stage of plan preparation. Those residents and businesses who were unable to attend the workshops were given the opportunity to submit their views through a widely-circulated survey. A complete overview of the discussions and outcomes of the workshops, and responses to the survey, is available in on our website. More information on how local communities can get involved is set out in 'Tell Us Your Views' chapter.
1.17 There are other ways for local communities to get more involved in planning for their areas. In our district, the Parish or Town Councils have the option to prepare their own neighbourhood plans and orders that complement the new Local Plan. The Parish or Town Councils have the ability to prepare the following:
- A Community Right to Build Order – this enables small scale development in local communities such as housing or community facilities
- A Neighbourhood Development Order – this enables Parish or Town Councils to grant planning permission for certain types of development without the need for people to apply to the District Council
- A Neighbourhood Plan – this provides locally specific policies for the development and use of land in a neighbourhood area (normally within a Parish or Town boundary)
1.18 The main objective of community-led planning is to plan positively for future development within an area, not to prevent growth but to provide a localised policy framework to build on the strategic policies set out in the new Local Plan.
1.19 We are keen to work with local communities who are working on their Neighbourhood Plan to ensure that it complements the new Local Plan. Canewdon Parish Council has had its 'neighbourhood area' approved, after a period of public consultation, and is currently the only local community group that is progressing its Neighbourhood Plan. Once a Neighbourhood Plan has been finalised, a referendum is held in the neighbourhood area it covers. If it is approved by the community, it will be adopted by us and will form part of the future local development plan.
How will the plan be evidenced?
1.20 We need to ensure that any proposals within the new Local Plan are supported by robust, up-to-date information. A number of documents, including feedback reports from consultation and engagement events, background studies, survey and research, have been prepared to date – a number of which have been mentioned above. The evidence to support the new Local Plan will continue to be prepared and updated, where necessary.
1.21 In parallel with the preparation of the new Local Plan, we are producing an Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP) with input from key infrastructure and service providers. The IDP will assess the impact of proposed development on infrastructure and set out necessary infrastructure required to support proposed development. We have produced an Infrastructure Delivery Topic Paper which sets out our baseline infrastructure position following the adoption of our local development plan. This will in turn inform the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) which will be prepared to set out the circumstances that the CIL will be applied and the key infrastructure that the CIL will seek to fund.
 The government has announced that it intends to make significant changes to the NPPF and aims for these to take affect in the first half of 2018. This document relates to the current NPPF and any changes in the new NPPF will be reflected our second stage consultation on the Local Plan.