Epsom and Ewell Borough Council (EEBC) approved a new timetable for their much-anticipated and hotly debated Local Plan last Thursday (August 6) amid the spectre of central government development “reforms” that could upend the entire rulebook for planning in the UK.

On August 6, EEBC’s Licensing and Planning Policy Committee agreed to approve the new timetable that will look at “Final Issues and Options Consultation” this winter, be submitted to the government in Autumn 2021 and face a Public Hearing in the winter of 2021.

However, the latest steps towards solidifying the Local Plan are under the threat of being overshadowed by sweeping new reforms touted by the Conservative government’s Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

Last Thursday (August 6), Jenrick and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government announced plans to “overhaul” the UK’s “outdated planning system” and “streamline (the) process, cut red tape and harness technology to deliver homes faster.”

The announcement came as the UK government scrambled to address the economic crash that arrives in the wake of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Critics of Jenrick’s plans warned they would cut vital regulations on housing by granting “automatic permission” for new developments in certain areas to be designated by the government.

“Deregulation is not the way to bring about new homes,” Alan Jones, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, said last week.

Mary Parson, chair of the Town and Country Planning Association, meanwhile said the reforms could lead to “creating what will become the slums of the future...” while the Labour Party warned they would “set fire to important safeguards”.

EEBC’s view of the proposals was also less than rosy, as the council outlined in a statement released Wednesday (August 12).

A spokesperson for the council pointed out that, according to projections from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the borough’s housing need could be reduced from 579 homes per year, to just 215 homes.

“Our residents expect the Local Plan for the local area to be evidenced based and for the housing target to be reflective of local needs,” Councillor David Reeve, who chairs the licensing and planning committee, said.

“We wrote to the government last month to ask them to adopt the latest ONS projections and accept that, based on the evidence, Epsom and Ewell should only require the much lower target of 215 new homes a year,” Reeve added.

“We are really concerned that these latest government proposals to change the method of calculating the housing target would...lead to an even larger requirement for new homes in the borough, when the evidence using the current method of calculation together with the latest ONS data provides for a much lower housing target,” he said.

However, under last week’s Government white paper proposal, borough's housing targets have been reformulated. 

Epsom's new figure has increased even further to 604 new homes per year.

If the government's reforms  are confirmed, this new figure is what EEBC would have to include in the new local plan.