Why the blueprint for developing Sheffield has been delayed

Sheffield’s long-awaited blueprint for how the city will be developed won’t be finalised for another two years – leaving it on unsteady ground with planning applications.

Wednesday, 20th January 2021, 4:45 pm

The Local Plan outlines how Sheffield will develop up to 2038 and covers housing, industry, offices, retail, leisure and green open space.

It is a document which both the council and developers can refer to, outlining sites available for development and protecting greenfield and green belt sites.

But Sheffield’s Plan won’t be finalised until 2023 – although the council has a vision for the city, there are no details yet as to which sites should be developed.

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The Local Plan is a blueprint for how Sheffield should develop up to 2038

Sheffield Liberal Democrat councillors raised concerns at a scrutiny meeting about the delay as the process started back in 2015. Even neighbouring Barnsley Council has raised an eyebrow at Sheffield’s lack of plan.

Barnsley approved 88 per cent of planning applications in the year to September 2020, compared to Sheffield’s 90 per cent

Joe Jenkinson. head of planning at Barnsley Council, told a meeting in the town that because Sheffield doesn’t have a Local Plan, the council has weaker objections to applications that are lodged.

He said: “There is an expectation that you have a plan in place. If you don’t, or your plan is out of date, there is a presumption that you will look favourably on housing applications on sites that aren’t allocated in a plan.

Housing will be a key part of the Local Plan

“A lot of authorities have not got a plan in place and it gets termed as planning by appeal. Whereas if you’ve got a plan in place, you know the rigorous process that plan has been through.

“The authority with a plan is in a stronger position. For example, if there’s a biodiversity or highways issue, we’ve got policies in the plan to deal with it. If it went to appeal we’d have more chance of winning.

“Barnsley to the year end of September 2020, served 48 enforcement notices in that year. Rotherham did 34 notices, Sheffield did 25, so we’ve done nearly double the enforcement notices that Sheffield has done.”

Sheffield Council admitted there were risks in not having a Local Plan but said the process of drawing one up was lengthy to allow for several stages of public consultation.

Sheffield Council is keen to protect green sites from development

Colin Walker, interim chief planning officer, said the council had tried to streamline the process as much as possible and the draft plan should be presented this September.

He told a scrutiny meeting: “The draft plan will give a very clear indication and steer to the investment market, and most importantly to our residents, in terms of what the Plan is going to be.

“That will be a very important stage in the process. At each stage the plan will gather a certain amount of weight and it can start to be used in making decisions.

“It doesn’t have to wait until the final adoption stage before we can refer to it so it will gather weight as it rolls through the process.

“How much weight is open to debate and will need to be looked at on a case by case basis but we don’t have to wait until 2023 before it comes to life.”

Mr Walker admitted there was a risk. “Without a plan to bring sites forward we are vulnerable to developers submitting planning applications to a certain extent so yes, until we have a final adopted local plan, there is a risk.

“As we bring the Local Plan forward that will provide a more certain environment with development sites.

“Those sites may come forward before the final adoption of the Local Plan over the next two years and we’ll have to deal with them as they do come forward.”

The council does have a five year land supply plan which Mr Walker said made the city “less vulnerable” to planning applications.

He added: “The land supply plan is a really important piece of our policy jigsaw – forming our own destiny as a council with regard to how we want to see our city developed, rather than it being done in a reactive way or on appeal.”

Mr Walker agreed it had been a lengthy process but said officers had “gone back to the drawing board” after councillors said they were concerned about some initial ideas.

“We went away and thought about it and we also did a lot of listening to councillors, partners, and people outside the council and we tried to make the plan simpler and much more understandable,” he said.

“It’s quite a complex process which is set out by national government. We’ve listened to our advisors in government, what they think and how we can best present the plan to meet their guidance and their legislation, because that can be quite tortuous and complex.

“So we think we’ve got government on our side and we’ve simplified things as much as we possibly can.”

The council’s initial vision for the city can be viewed here

The timetable for the Sheffield Plan

July to Sept 2021

Consult on Publication Draft Local Plan

January 2022

Draft Plan Submitted to the Government

April to July 2022

Public hearings

Nov 2022

Preliminary Inspector’s Report

Jan to Feb 2023

Consult on Main Modifications

June 2023

Final Inspector’s Report

Sept 2023

Adoption

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.