Agenda item

Strategic Planning and Growth Related Matters

Mr Rob Thornhill, the Joint Strategic Planning Manager for Leicester and Leicestershire had been invited to attend for this item. 


The Commission considered a report of the Chief Executive which provided an update on a number of key strategic planning and other related matters which affect the County Council, and how the Growth Service and others were working together to address these.  The report also provided an update on the uplift in housing numbers allocated to Leicester City and the implications of this for district council housing numbers and their current local plan proposals, as well as the County Council as infrastructure provider.  A copy of the report marked ‘Agenda Item 12’ is filed with these minutes.


The Chairman welcomed Mr Rob Thornhill, the Joint Strategic Planning Manager for Leicester and Leicestershire, to the meeting.


In presenting the report the Assistant Chief Executive highlighted the substantial increase in population predicted across the County over the next five years and the associated need to accommodate housing and employment growth, and for the County Council to provide the infrastructure to support this.  Members noted that the Growth Service had been established to better manage the Council’s contribution to the growth agenda and in particular the financial risk this brought to the Council.  The Assistant Chief Executive said the Service had been building positive relationships with district councils and had sought to engage early on their local plan proposals to address the issues detailed in the report.


Arising from discussion, the following points were made:


(i)              Members welcomed the report which provided a useful overview of what was a complex and ever changing picture.  Members agreed the need for the County Council to take a proactive approach given the impact growth would have on the localities and both County and district councils. 

(ii)             A member raised concerns about the uplift in housing numbers to be delivered by Leicester City and the real impact this would have on district councils that would have to meet the increased unmet need.  The member argued that it was clearly impossible for Leicester City to accommodate the uplift given it already could not meet its original allocation.  They suggested that the uplift would indirectly deliver what the Government’s original proposed change to the current planning system (i.e. to change the standard method for calculating minimum annual local housing requirements) aimed to deliver; a proposal which had received strong objection and so had been withdrawn.

(iii)           In light of the impact of Covid-19 on Leicester City, a member suggested that fresh consideration was needed on how it could deliver more housing, perhaps in place of some office and retail space given these sectors had been so badly affected.  The Member suggested that other cities such as Manchester had accommodated more housing and this had been hugely successful in bringing new life into the City.  Members noted the work being undertaken by the City Council to address the uplift and that it would receive a further update on the outcome of this work at an appropriate time.

(iv)           A member questioned whether, given recent changes (e.g. the City uplift and the loss of the planned A46 Expressway), it was now accepted that a fundamental review of the Strategic Growth Plan was necessary.   Mr Thornhill advised that the overall strategic view as set out in the SGP remained unchanged.  Essentially the Plan focused growth towards Leicester, recognised it as a central city, recognised the role of market towns, and focused growth in identified key areas (e.g. north west Leicestershire, in and around the proposed Freeport, the area around the A5 corridor, and around the proposed Melton Mowbray distributor road etc.) which had not changed despite the impacts of Covid.  Members noted the detailed work, including a strategic transport assessment, commissioned by the MAG (Members Advisory Group) which would provide a more up to date picture of growth needs in the area.  Mr Thornhill explained that the outcome of this work may or may not support the SGP and may or may not therefore trigger the need for a review, but that this would be considered comprehensively by all partners of the MAG next year.     

(v)            Members commented that large infrastructure projects identified to support specific growth schemes were reliant on national funding.  If not secured, this would mean a review of the planned infrastructure was needed, not a review of the SGP.  A member emphasised that ultimately not delivering the A46 Expressway did not affect the number of houses to be delivered in that area.    

(vi)           Mr Thornhill emphasised that the 35% uplift in Leicester City posed an immediate issue which could not be addressed by long term strategic sites identified in the SGP which covered the period from 2031 to 2050.  An alternative approach was therefore needed.  The MAG would consider all the options available once the outcome of the commissioned assessments were known and the position made clearer. 

(vii)         Members welcomed the approach being adopted to work collectively to address the unmet need of the City Council which it was acknowledged was in a very difficult position.   A member commented that Leicestershire was unique in that it had 9 local authorities represented on the MAG, all seeking to collectively find the best possible solution to the growth requirements identified across Leicester and Leicestershire. 

(viii)        It was highlighted that the number of houses needing to be delivered were known and were as set by Government.  The MAG, however, played a key role in considering cooperatively how best to locate these and how to secure maximum infrastructure funding.  A member emphasised that the commitment of the County Council and the City Council to work cooperatively in this regard was clear given the involvement of the Leader and the City Mayor on that Group.

(ix)           In response to questions regarding the Housing and Economic Needs Assessment, Mr Thornhill confirmed that this would look at a range of issues similar to what the HEDNA had considered in 2017 (excluding housing need which was calculated in line with a national formula).  It would look at Leicester City’s unmet need and how this might be redistributed, housing mix, the need for employment land and growth, and the number of homes needed to support that employment growth.  Members noted that this work would align with that undertaken by the LLEP in support of its Economic Growth Plan ensuring for the first time, greater consistency in approach on planning and economic growth aspirations across Leicester and Leicestershire.

(x)            It was noted that the evidence from the Housing and Economic Needs Assessment would be important for district council local plan preparations.  Whilst the timing might not be ideal for some, work was being undertaken as quickly as possible.  It was intended that the evidence from the Assessment would be published early next year, alongside an agreed Statement of Common Ground. 

(xi)           Members noted that the City Council had done a huge amount of work so far in trying to maximise its capacity to deliver its increased housing allocation.  Mr Thornhill clarified that whilst there were political pressures, the ultimate test was a planning one and the bar was very high.  The local plan process was in depth and required a huge amount of work and evidence.  The local plan examination itself could take up to a year and the City Council would need to demonstrate it had left no stone unturned if it was unable to meet its housing need. 

(xii)         Mr Thornhill emphasised that Leicester and Leicestershire was a housing market area which up to 2036 had to accommodate in excess of 85000 homes.  Therefore, even if the City were able to deliver an additional few thousand homes, overall, this would have limited strategic impact across the area. 

(xiii)        It was hoped that the Government’s response to the Planning White Paper would be published in the Autumn.  In response to questions raised, Mr Thornhill advised that it was unclear what the Government’s approach would be until that time and therefore it was not clear what impact this might have on current district council local plans.  The expectation was that there would be a transition process for any new proposals brought into force.

(xiv)        In terms of climate change and questions regarding how local authority local plans could align with their environment and zero carbon targets, Mr Thornhill advised that whilst many had tried to grapple this issue it continued to be a challenge as the Government would not allow local authorities to set their own local standards i.e. building standards continued to be set nationally.  Local Plans could, however, have an impact around where developments were located i.e. located to have minimum impact by being close to larger settlements and/or employment areas and where transport infrastructure was already in place. 

(xv)         It was suggested that the County would benefit from a consistent policy to support climate change that could be referenced in each district councils local plan.  Members noted, however, that the MAG operated to fulfil the duty to cooperate and did not have any decision making powers to insist on such a common policy approach.  This would be a matter for each individual district council to determine.

(xvi)        Members acknowledged that logistics was a hugely challenging sector to plan for.  Mr Thornhill highlighted that this was largely because it didn’t operate over traditional scales or boundaries.  The market operated for example in this region over 21 local authority areas covering Milton Keynes, Birmingham across to Nottingham.  This made sites difficult to plan for and it was not uncommon for there to be a focus in one area more than others.




(a)            That the update now provided be welcomed and noted;

(b)            That Mr Thornhill be thanked for attending the meeting and for providing the responses and additional information sought by the Scrutiny Commission;

(c)            That a further report be presented at an appropriate time in 2022 providing an update on Leicester City’s local plan proposals and the outcome of the work commissioned by the MAG.


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