THE council’s development plan which will shape the future of the conurbation faces a race against time to meet Government deadlines – while next year’s local elections have a big impact.

BCP Council is extending the timetable for the production of its Local Plan with the hope to increase public engagement.

Last year the local authority said the aim was to have the plan adopted by summer 2023.

However, after a delay in setting up the issues and options consultation, which took place earlier this year, the council is now aiming to have the first conurbation-wide Local Plan in place by winter 2024.

A report to cabinet, which is due to be presented on Wednesday, July 27, said BCP Council’s formation in 2019 was subject to consequential orders set by central Government. These included a requirement to have a BCP Local Plan in place by 2024.

The new timeline for the Local Plan is included in a proposed revision to the Local Development Scheme.

The cabinet report said: “We could work towards publishing a draft of the Local Plan earlier than is set out, at the beginning of 2023. This would then bring forward the submission, examination, and adoption dates. However, to meet this deadline would mean that the community engagement planned for this year would not be able to take place.

“As a result, communities would not benefit from further involvement in the plan making process. It is therefore not recommended to proceed with this as an alternative.”

It is acknowledged that council elections, scheduled for May 2023, will likely have an impact on the content in the Local Plan.

Cross-party involvement is said to be important to ensure all members are informed of the requirements, evidence and decision-making involved with the key policy document.

Figures on the issues and options consultation, which was extended and had in-person sessions added after a backlash from residents and councillors, are included in the report.

While the response “exceeds that which has been achieved for a planning consultation of this type which has been undertaken by any of the legacy authorities”, less than 0.3 per cent of the adult population in the BCP Council area took part.

The survey, which was criticised for its complexity in its online format, had 957 responses.

The responses were typically from people aged between 35 and 84, with this age range making up 90 per cent of the responses but only 57 per cent of the population.

In addition, responses were not evenly distributed across the council area, with it appearing many areas on the fringe of the conurbation, where there is green belt land and concerns around housing developments, had much more engagement.

The wards that were “overrepresented” in the survey were Bearwood and Merley, Burton and Grange, Commons, Mudeford, Stanpit and West Highcliffe, Muscliff and Strouden Park, Talbot and Branksome Woods, Christchurch Town, West Southbourne, and Poole Town.

Meanwhile, Boscombe West, which has three per cent of the council area’s population, had less than one per cent of the survey responses. Bournemouth Central and Canford Heath, which each cover four per cent of the population, had just one per cent of the responses.

On concerns over the digital engagement methods used, the report said: “Some concerns were raised during the Issues and Options consultation around the extent of the digital engagement methods.

“The engagement approach resulted from the Covid situation and restrictions in place at the launch of the consultation. However, these concerns are recognised and for the next stages of plan preparation a variety of engagement methods will continue to be used.

“Further, face-to-face engagement will be an important component of our ongoing approach.”

The proposed timeline sets out that there will be further engagement and more evidence gathering this autumn before a draft Local Plan is prepared in spring/summer next year. It will be published in autumn 2023 before submission for examination by an independent planning inspector.