Saxmundham Neighbourhood Plan

Closing stages of the Sax Neighbourhood Plan: Independent Examiner on the case, while Saxmundham Town & East Suffolk Councils disagree over ‘Garden Neighbourhood’ policy

Sunday, November 27th, 2022 11:28 pm

Short version

The Saxmundham Neighbourhood Plan (NP) is being considered by an Independent Examiner.  While large parts of the Plan are supported also by East Suffolk Council, that Council has also criticized (in their response to the most recent round of consultation )some aspects of the draft Plan, which relate to the masterplanning of the new 800 home South Saxmundham Garden Neighbourhood (GN).  The GN housing is proposed to be built on the site between the railway and the A12 bypass. 

In turn, the Saxmundham NP Steering Group and Town Council have strongly rejected the approach to masterplanning of the site by East Suffolk and the proposed developer, Pigeon, which would exclude a role for the Neighbourhood Plan in relation to the planning of the GN site, much of which falls within Saxmundham parish.  The draft NP is not allowed by law to contradict the Local Plan, but we have sought to include policies that bring much needed community resources to the town, and which supplement the Local Plan policy.  We are also seeking adequate land on the east of the railway (including The Layers) to be used as open and natural greenspace for the benefit of the local community – both from the new GN and also from the existing town.

The Garden Neighbourhood, it will be recalled, is imposed by East Suffolk Council (ESC) in their Local Plan We point out that – while the Local Plan required a masterplan based on “community engagement”, we have actually had precisely zero “engagement” by ESC and Pigeon over the last 2 years.  

East Suffolk’s main criticisms of the draft NP are (a) they do not agree with some aspects of the masterplans and design guidelines produced by our consultants, AECOM, and (b) since the area of the GN covers parts of Benhall as well as Saxmundham, we are not entitled to include policies which relate to the whole of the GN site. 

Our response to ESC is that the AECOM masterplans and Design Guidelines are not mandatory documents imposed upon the new development, but put forward to be drawn upon as appropriate.  We point out on point (a) that the Local Plan requires a masterplan brought forward through “landowner collaboration and community engagement”, of which we have had no sign, despite the fact that there have been ongoing discussion over the last two years between ESC planners and the would-be developer.

As to point (b), we argue that we are fully entitled to put forward policies for the Garden Neighbourhood which operate (wholly or partly) within Saxmundham parish, and that that is what we have done, provided they do not contradict the Local Plan policy for the site – which they do not, in our view.  After all, ensuring the success and attractiveness of the new development – which would add some 40% to our population – is vital for the future of the whole of our town, not just for those who will live in the GN


What’s been happening with the NP

A lot has been happening recently with the Saxmundham Neighbourhood Plan (NP) which we dare to hope – hope springs eternal! – may come to be finally approved next May.  Certainly, we’re now in the closing stages.

To recall, a year ago (November 2021) the first draft of the Saxmundham NP was out for public consultation, and we received nearly a hundred responses, some brief, some of considerable length.  Our NP Steering Group went through each response in detail, and we made some important changes to address many of the points made.  We also consulted on the draft concept Masterplans and Design Guidelines which our consultants AECOM had drafted to help us in preparing the Plan, and to provide guidance for future planning in the town.

In summer this year, we submitted a 2nd draft of the Plan to East Suffolk Council who then – as they are required by law to do – put it out for a further round of consultation which finished in early September.

The next step was the appointment of an ‘Independent Examiner’ for the Plan; we agreed on the appointment of John Slater.  The Examiner advises on any final changes to the Plan.  Once his proposed changes are delivered – and assuming East Suffolk Council agree with his recommended changes – East Suffolk Council finalizes the NP to take them on board, and organizes a local referendum for the electors of Saxmundham.  The Plan will be adopted if it is approved by a simple majority of those voting in the referendum.  We are assuming that (unless new obstacles emerge) this will take place in early May, to coincide with our local parish and district council elections.

The Examiner has recently visited Saxmundham (in anonymity) to see the town and its key sites for himself, and issued his Initial Comments on 4th November.  These posed some questions to Saxmundham Town Council, and also invited us to comment on responses to the latest round of consultation. 

(Without prejudice to his findings, he was kind enough to say some nice words about the drafting of the Plan: “However, I would at the outset commend the authors of the plan. They have produced a document which is well written and presented and provides an excellent description of the town and its issues to a person like myself who is new to the area.”  It’s been a big team effort, so thanks for this comment!)

We sent our response to the Examiner on 18th November, and await his final report with any proposed changes to the Neighbourhood Plan.

For more detailed reading:

You can download the current (“submission draft”) version of the NP here

You can download the responses to the most recent consultation on the NP here (Sept. 2022)

You can download the Examiner’s Initial Comments here (4 Nov 2022)

You can download our Town Council / Steering Group response to the Examiner here (18 Nov 2022)

You can download most of the above plus more documents from this page on East Suffolk Council’s website related to the Saxmundham Neighbourhood Plan