Letter from The Planning Law Practice: Old River Lane
Dear Chief Executive,
I act for the Bishop's Stortford & Sawbridgeworth Labour Party.
My clients are very concerned that the District Council is in the process of making firm decisions on the the scope of the Old River Lane redevelopment scheme in a manner which (i) has not been the subject of meaningful public consultation and (ii) is bound to pre-empt and pre-judge the local planning process.
My clients are understand that the Council resolved on 13th January to delete the proposed Arts Theatre from the ORL scheme and replace it with a multi-screen cinema. The decision was apparently taken on the basis that a business case for the Arts Theatre cannot be made out and presumably on the basis that the multi-screen cinema can proceed on a sound business and financial footing. That decision is due to be endorsed by the next meeting of the Council on 2nd March.
The alleged business case for the rejection of the Arts Theatre and the introduction of a multi-screen cinema has not been published in any form. I am writing to you separately about the disclosure of relevant information to which my clients and the public are entitled.
My clients' principal concern is that, in deciding so firmly on the basis of undisclosed material that the ORL scheme should be led by a multi-screen cinema, the Council is both pre-empting and pre-judging the local planning process. It is necessary therefor for me to set out the position in relation to the current and emerging local planning policies in some detail.
East Herts District Plan
The starting point is the policies of the Local Plan which was adopted by the District Council in October 2018 and in particular Policy BISH8 of the Local Plan which says that: The Bishop's Stortford Town Centre Planning Framework will form the basis of a Supplementary Planning Document which will be used to inform the master planning of this site.
The policy makes it clear that the Town Centre Planning Framework is intended to for the basis for further work on a master plan for the ORL site which will be set out in an adopted SPD. The Policy does not suggest that the TCPF is itself sufficiently detailed to comprise the master plan. The TCPF has not been adopted by the District Council as a Supplementary Planning Document.
Public consultation is currently underway on the Neighbourhood Plan for Bishop's Stortford and part of Thorley Parish (1st Revision) Shared Policies for the period 2020-2032.
Policy TC1 of the draft Neighbourhood Plan says that: The development of Old River Lane should be the subject of a supplementary planning document which was proposed under Policy BISH8 of the District Plan and at the time of writing has yet to be made, to inform the master planning of the site. Before any further works take place to ensure that full consultation with stakeholders and residents takes place on the mix of uses.
There is no express support in any of the adopted or emerging development plan policies for the development of a multi-screen cinema on the ORL site. The Town Centre Planning Framework includes Figure 25 as Option A which identifies the centre of the site as accommodating new community or public service space, a description which does not apply to a multi-screen cinema.
The legal position therefor is that the Council is not entitled to promote a multi-screen cinema on the ORL site until it has undertaken a comprehensive public consultation exercise on a Supplementary Planning Document which comprises a detailed master plan for the ORL site and has adopted that document as a formal planning policy.
A decision by the Council to promote a multi-screen cinema on the ORL site in advance of proper consultation on and the adoption of the SPD would be unlawful.
Please confirm therefor that Members will be advised on the 2nd March that a decision as to whether the ORL scheme should include an Arts Theatre of a multi-screen cinema is premature in advance of the SPD process.
As I have noted above, I am writing to you separately about the extent to which the Council should be required to disclose information about this scheme which has so far been withheld from the public.
The Planning Law Practice