There is much work to be done on housing and planning legislation and policy - we look at early appeal decisions and other signals given by the new government.
Sajid Javid was appointed as the new Secretary of State for Community and Local Government in July, with Gavin Barwell as Minister for Housing and Planning. Early statements signal that the government remains committed to the delivery of new homes. However, the emphasis appears to have changed from prioritising home ownership (and starter homes) towards support for a balance of tenures including private rented units. The green belt remains sacrosanct, disappointing those demanding a strategic review.
In order to significantly boost housing land supply, major urban extensions and new settlements will be required on sites beyond green belt protection. Two initial decisions by the Secretary of State on substantial appeal schemes demonstrate that a robust case is still required to justify the impacts of applications, for example:
In contrast, an application for around 1,500 dwellings and other uses at an unallocated site in Aylesbury was refused by the Secretary of State. The authority was not able to demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites and the presumption of sustainable development applied. Very significant adverse impacts were identified to the character and appearance of the landscape, contrary to local plan policy, including the merging of Aylesbury with the village of Bierton. Following recent case law (currently under appeal to the Supreme Court), those policies were deemed to constitute policies for the supply of housing under the National Planning Policy Framework and out of date in the absence of a five year housing land supply. However, weight was still given to the specific purpose of the policies, being to avoid coalescence and protect the identity of settlements. Moderate weight given to the loss of high quality agricultural land also led to the refusal.
An outline application for development in Northampton of up to 1000 dwellings gained the Secretary of State’s support. Importantly, the site was allocated in the recently adopted core strategy which the Secretary of State considered to be an ‘in principle’ mandate for development.
Likewise, an application for housing in Nantwich, Cheshire was refused on appeal despite a shortfall in housing and saved policies being out of date. Policies limiting housing development in the countryside were accorded reduced but still significant weight and therefore the harm to the countryside and loss of agricultural land meant that the environmental dimension of sustainable development was not met.
As demonstrated by successful co-joined appeals into housing development in South Norfolk, some harm to the countryside can be acceptable. No five year housing land supply existed, despite adoption of a relatively recent joint core strategy. Policies for the supply of housing were therefore out of date, including those relating to a strategic gap. The gap policies did not prohibit development, but only supported development that retained separation and openness. The harm identified including the erosion of the gap and social harm in the loss of confidence in the community in the robustness of the recently adopted plan, did not outweigh the scheme benefits.
- Non-compliance with neighbourhood plans can be definitive. An application for a housing site in Arun was rejected against the recommendation of the inspector. Whilst contrary to a recently adopted neighbourhood plan, that plan was based on an out of date assessment of housing needs, the authority being unable to demonstrate a five year housing land supply. Following the application of the presumption of sustainable development, planning permission was refused, with very substantial negative weight being placed on the conflict with the neighbourhood plan.
- An application for 400 dwellings in Newmarket was also rejected by the Secretary of State, contrary to the inspector’s recommendation. The case turned on policies in the development plan preventing development that threatened the long term viability of the local horse racing industry. Concern about accidents arising from increased traffic, given the unpredictable nature of thoroughbred race horses, weighed against the grant of permission.
The above decisions show that, for unallocated sites, the lack of a five year housing land supply is not determinative, particularly where a proposal is contrary to a neighbourhood plan or could otherwise cause significant harm.
At the same time, getting sites allocated remains no easy feat. Time is ticking down to Brandon Lewis’s deadline of April 2017, by which authorities are required to have published a local plan. Confirmation is awaited as to what the government proposes to do if authorities fail to deliver, as is the government’s response to the recommendations of the Local Plans Expert Group.
Indeed, the papers must be piled high on the desks of those at the CLG. The Housing and Planning Act 2016 is now on the statute books, but secondary legislation is required to implement many of the measures it contains. The Neighbourhood Planning Bill has also been introduced to Parliament.
Whilst the government’s key focus is on preparing the country for Brexit, Theresa May remains alert to the need to tackle the housing crisis. As part of that, a functioning planning system is necessary. Wholesale change is unwanted, but speedy clarity as to the government’s next steps would be welcome.