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New Forest District Council to consider a formal review of its Local Plan

A controversial New Forest house-building policy could be revamped.

New Forest District Council in 2020 published part one of its Local Plan, which set out a vision for development outside the national park, outlining an extra 10,420 homes to be built by 2036.

The plan must be reviewed every five years but, since its adoption, a number of policies have been deemed no longer relevant or require significant updating, while some have been superseded by standard national policies.

NFDC’s place and sustainability overview and scrutiny panel heard the council had three options: continue to pause work on the plan until July 2025; work on the second part of the plan; or start a formal review.

The panel agreed to allocate a budget of £700,000 towards the cost of the review, in addition to £200,000 to cover the cost of preparing a design code.

If agreed by the cabinet in February, it will then go to a vote at a meeting of the full council.

The Local Plan was not popular even among some councillors who voted for it in 2020, with then-deputy leader Edward Heron warning defeat in the vote could cause central government to impose its own quota of homes of up to 20,000.

It features 18 major housing sites in towns and villages and has a target of providing 300 homes per year for the first five years, with 35-50% affordable housing to rent or buy.

And the approval of developments since its adoption, including the former Lymington police station, have seen the Local Plan come under further fire.

One group which has been long pushing for changing the policy is the Lymington Society, and its chair Don Mackenzie welcomed the proposed review.

He told the A&T the society wanted to see the provision of “desperately needed” affordable homes.

It would also like a restriction on certain types of development, such as retirement homes, in areas where there is already a surplus.

He said: “It’s been clear for some time that the Local Plan, whilst having laudable aims, was simply not fit for purpose and was not creating a mixed and balanced community by providing a mix and choice of homes by type, size, tenure and cost.

“We need a level playing field so developers of retirement housing cannot wriggle out of their obligations to deliver affordable housing and out-compete general market housing.

“And much stronger policies [are needed] on all developers to ensure good quality affordable housing is delivered in full and on-site and not successively whittled down using viability assessments.”

He added: “Most importantly we would like to see NFDC councillors and officers commit to early and meaningful consultation with their communities, and to listen and act on it to genuinely effect change. We look forward to being part of the process.”

In a report to the place and sustainability overview and scrutiny panel, NFDC said it was unable to progress part two of the plan – covering development management policies and smaller-scale development sites – due to the planning changes and “a lack of clarity”, as well as the impact of Covid-19.

The construction and supply of new homes has fallen “significantly” below previous forecasts, for a range of reasons, the report explained, and as a result, the council can only demonstrate a three-year supply of land for homes, with the shortfall “a significant challenge to address”.

A new Local Plan would provide the most appropriate option to addressing the future housing needs, it added.

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