Agenda item

General questions

The Leader, or his nominee, to answer questions from Councillors on matters affecting the Borough, in accordance with Standing Order 14.


Four questions have been received from members (as per attached).


The Mayor reported that four general questions had been received, in accordance with Standing Order 15, from councillors.


Question One from Councillor Rybinski:


“In my view and based on my interactions with the local community, overwhelmingly residents consider the current Draft plan as the best compromise between our wishes and planning law. Why should we delay it any further and open all our communities up to the very real threat of predatory development?” 


Response from the Leader, Councillor Sexton:


“May I remind you that Cllr Boughtflower together with ex Cllr Beardsmore and Cllr Harvey stated, then retracted the following statement. As you will recall from the Foreword to the Reg 19 Plan: ‘The Journey … has been divisive, bruising and at times unpleasant.  It has fractured communities and turned councillors against each other.’


This short pause will give the Council some time to ensure that our plan which will shape Spelthorne for the next 15 years is the right one for the local communities of Spelthorne, taking account every possible option available. Recent and proposed changes to national policy provide more flexibility to local authorities in the way we balance the needs for housing with other priorities, including the role of the Green Belt and floodrisk, but also provide much more support around design and ensuring that whatever development is provided, it is of the highest quality and contributes positively to our existing places. As the elected representatives of our local communities, we owe it to them to make sure we have looked at every possible option to get the right plan – not just any plan – in place. Those who voted for this plan admitted that it was not a perfect outcome but nevertheless went along with it.

We have asked officers to present a full risk assessment for the September meeting which will obviously look at the risks around ‘predatory development’.”


Question Two from Councillor Howkins:


“Spelthorne is constricted by two dates – the end of the three month ‘Pause’ on the 13 September 23 and the deadline of December 23 by which time all Local Planning Authorities in England must have a valid Local Plan (This is written policy from the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities). 


Please could you provide a written timetable detailing how and when the Review Councillor Training and Consultation will be dealt with, within what time frame.”  


Response from the Leader, Councillor Sexton:


“Thank you Councillor Howkins for your question.

Whilst the end of December 2023 may be the Government’s official position, given the current state of play with planning reform and specifically the forthcoming update to the NPPF, we believe there is unlikely to be any consequences for local authorities who do not meet this deadline, especially as a significant number of local planning authorities are at a much earlier stage in their local plan process than Spelthorne.  In response to a similar question at the Council Meeting on the 6 June, officers stated that there was a risk of government intervention if we did not meet this deadline, giving recent interventions in Guildford and Waverley as evidence.   I’m hoping officers will confirm that the intervention in these cases was focused on the development management functions of the councils and their slow response rate to planning applications and was not related in any way to their plan-making. Nevertheless, any risks associated with this will be factored into the risk assessment being prepared by officers and considered by Council in due course”. 


Councillor Howkins asked the following supplementary question:


“Have you read and been made aware of the Tandridge District Council examination of the Local Plan dated 23 June 2023?”


Response from the Leader, Councillor Sexton:


“No I have not, but I will look into it.”


Question Three from Councillor Lee:


“The Spelthorne Strategic Planning Team has been working on our Local Plan for more than five years.  What experience does Catriona Riddell have in working up a Local Plan from inception to Examination in Public (not as a consultant)?” 


Response from the Deputy Leader, Councillor Bateson:


“Catriona Riddell’s C.V. has been circulated to all councillors which summarises her extensive experience but in response to your question, but I would be happy to provide more detailed information as follows:


Catriona was responsible for two major plans in the past – the Surrey Structure Plan and the South East Plan which, although not local plans, were very large and complex development plans developed under the statutory planning system, working with a wide range of stakeholders and local authorities.


Since 2010, 100% of Catriona’s work as a consultant has been supporting councils right across England in different capacities and different stages on their local plans. She runs a national learning group on local plans, provides training on local plan preparation, including examination training, and undertakes local plan reviews for both the Planning Officers Society (POS) and the government’s Planning Advisory Service where she worked for two years to help develop national practice around the Duty to Cooperate.


She is the Strategic Planning Specialist for the Planning Officers Society which represents local planning authorities across England and plays a key role in the POS Spatial Planning Committee which is where good practice in local planning is shared.  Catriona also sits on the RTPI’s England Policy Committee which is responsible for advising the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), the professional body for chartered planners, on how planning policy should be developed. Also at a national level, Catriona has been involved in advising our Government on planning policy over the years in different roles and recently was one of only 20 people invited to attend a two day meeting with the government’s Chief Planning advisor and her team to help develop planning reforms in relation to local plans.  She also sits on the government’s working group looking at recruitment and retention challenges in local planning authorities. 


 In terms of her professional credibility, Catriona is a Fellow of the RTPI and only 1% of Chartered Planners have this status, and last year was awarded an Honorary Doctorate for her services to planning. 


Can I gently remind colleagues that Catriona is not being commissioned to do the job of our officers and bringing her into help is not a criticism of our officers and the ‘great’ job they have done in getting us to where we are.  The critical friend role is to bring wider knowledge and experience around how others are managing their local plans to help and support us all.  We owe it to our residents to make sure we have covered absolutely every option possible to deliver the right Plan as the Leader has said – not any plan – for Spelthorne”. 


Question Four from Councillor Lee:


As the working-up of our Local Plan has cost more than £2 million so far. The Council is beholden under the LGA Code of Conduct to ensure that public resources are used prudently.  What are the estimated costs of further delay to our Local Plan, and the desire by some Council group leaders to have the Local Plan re-written?” 


Response from the Deputy Leader, Councillor Bateson:


“In response to your question, let me make it very clear this evening and kill a myth that has been circulated mischievously. There is no desire – no desire -  amongst the overwhelming majority of councillors including group leaders, to roll the plan back and rewrite it. As a direct consequence of the motion to pause, this authority has not spent more than £5,000 to date. In regard to the estimated costs of any potential further delay, that will depend entirely on what this Chamber decides on the 14th of September and until we know exactly what that decision is, we are unable to accurately at this stage estimate that figure. However, be assured, that any potential costs will be made public at the time that we consider the matter in full Council on the 14th of September”.


Councillor Lee asked the following supplementary question:


“As part of the report presented at the Corporate Policy and Resources meeting on 26 June which I attended, along with other members, we were advised that the estimated cost of refreshing its evidence base would be about £100k, and if the Inspector deems the changes sufficient to have to withdraw our plan, it could cost in the region of £1m. Could I kindly ask an officer present to confirm whether they still feel that these figures are credible estimates or not?”


Response from the Deputy Leader, Councillor Bateson:


“I think the figures that are being bandied around at this stage are speculative, nothing more nothing less. Until we know the outcome of the Critical Friend Review, this Council will consider the final report on the 14th of September. Costs associated to that will be made available to the Council and indeed the wider public and the cost will determine what decision this Council makes. I cannot pre-empt that no more than any other councillor can in this chamber.”




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