Council counts cost of planning policy

Bodicote House
Bodicote House

The full cost of drawing up Cherwell District Council’s 20-year plan for housing and development in the district can be revealed to the public for the first time.

Following new government guidelines, the council set about producing its Local Development Plan in 2008 to outline key housing and commercial developments across Cherwell up to 2031.

Five years on and after many delays, due partly to key changes in government planning policy, the LDP has been approved by the council and is set to go to Westminster at the end of January.

But following a freedom of information request, the Banbury Guardian can now reveal £4,564,876.82 has been spent on developing the plan in the years 2008-14. The largest single cost is for staffing with a total spend of £1,899,831.42 for employees mainly engaged in working on the LDP.

The second largest outlay was on payments to third parties including agencies required to carry out tasks such as environmental surveys and sustainability studies. This cost the council £1, 456, 400.80 over five years.

Other major spend areas include £103,133 on premises used for the work and £128, 805 on transport.

A total of £109,215 was spent on supplies and services including stationery and printing.

Adrian Colwell, the council’s head of strategic planning and the economy, said: “It goes without saying this is known to be a lengthy, complex and expensive process that planning authorities are required to undertake.

“The plan seeks to navigate competing interests – the community and the developer. It is required to be sound and evidence-based, hence all the work that goes into this.”

Michael Gibbard, the council’s lead member for planning, said the evidence base required by the Planning Inspectorate before approval is so rigorous it could still require the council to collect more evidence or even begin the process again, as has happened with other councils, necessitating yet further expenditure.

Changes in government policy from a more centrally oriented Local Development Framework to a greater focus on Local Plans, and then the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012, required extensive alterations.

Councillor Gibbard said: “The changes have prolonged the process and by inference it takes longer, which has led to us being perceived as being late in developing our plan.”

He added: “Proper planning is trying to get the right balance between housing, employment, education, transport and many other things.

“The plan itself wouldn’t stack up unless it had that evidence in place.”

Leader of the council’s Labour group, Sean Woodcock, said whilst broadly in support of the plan his party had questions why it has taken so long and is currently scrutinising the expenditure with regard to the use of external consultants.

The plan came in significantly under budget however with £5,161,725 being allocated and a £4,564,876.82 actual spend.