A SHORTCOMING in Ledbury's Neighbourhood Development Plan means that any developer looking for the town's boundary lines may not find any at all.

This raises question marks as to how open countryside beyond the town could be protected in the years to come.

The Neighbourhood Plan is meant to be a planning blueprint for Ledbury for the next two decades or so; but an independent examiner, looking at the plan as part of the legal process, has identified a major flaw when it comes deciding which areas of land could be developed and which should not.

As it stands, there is agricultural land surrounding Ledbury, but no official 'green belt'.

A spokesman for the planning authority, Herefordshire Council said: "The independent examiner for the Ledbury Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) has ruled that the settlement boundary drawn by the Town Council had not been subject to sufficient public consultation or consideration of all the potential options during preparation.

"He therefore recommended its deletion from the plan as it may not be defensible if challenged at a future planning appeal."

But other policies could be used to protect Ledbury's boundaries in the future.

The spokesman added: "The examiner considers that there are other policies within the Herefordshire Council Core Strategy and the Ledbury NDP itself, together with national planning guidance, which could be used to defend any future planning applications in the absence of a settlement boundary.

"Herefordshire does not have any ‘green belt’ land, anything outside of the town would be classified as open countryside. The Core Strategy contains policies which protect the Malvern Hills Area of Natural Beauty (AONB) to the east and the Leadon Valley to the west. There are also policies within the Core Strategy which protect the landscape and townscape."

The spokesman said: "The Herefordshire Council Neighbourhood Planning team is currently working with Ledbury Town Council to provide guidance on the next stage of the neighbourhood plan process and how to address the issues regarding the need for a settlement boundary in the future."

For town and county councillor, Liz Harvey, opportunities have already been missed.

She said: "A green gap could have been designated to the south of the town to maintain the character distinction between Ledbury as a market town and the existing hamlet of Parkway, which has never been given a mention in the Ledbury NDP.

"Research into historic field patterns using archive map records clearly show that patches of woodland and ancient orchards have been lost from this area. These were proposed for reinstatement as part of such a planned strategic gap to the south of the town; but the NDP group ignored these suggestions."

But once the plan is adopted, next year, the hope is it can be ammended.

Cllr Harvey said: As soon as the NDP is adopted, it can enter a revision process and the revised/repaired policies can then be consulted upon during the period of electoral purdah between February and May 2019, and put through a second referendum in early summer 2019. That’s the plan anyway."

But Cllr Harvey added: "In the meantime, the long and the short of it is that without a settlement boundary policy in its NDP, Ledbury will have to continue to rely upon the county and national planning policies and the status of the Malvern Hills AONB to protect it from unnecessary and unplanned development."