In July 2010 Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) were revoked with immediate effect.

The main impact for landowners and developers has been the withdrawal of regional housing targets. Many local authorities have consequently ‘downed tools’ on allocating new homes in their development plans and are compiling local housing needs studies, or returning to ‘Option 1’ figures (draft RSS numbers).

The revocation of RSS’s has had a profound impact on the chances of obtaining planning permission at local level, with authorities often resisting planning applications on non-allocated sites until new housing targets have been agreed.

In the interim there will be a period of uncertainty for developers and this is likely to be the case until housing needs studies are completed and new LDFs are adopted (and therefore tested). Until then, the advice given by Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, is for Councils to revert to ‘Option 1’ levels, carry out housing needs studies and to continue to maintain a five year housing land supply on this basis.

CALA Homes have challenged the Government’s decision to withdraw the South East Plan suggesting that Pickles acted outside his powers by removing a fundamental part of the plan-led system and also breached European law by revoking RSS’. The basis for CALA’s Judicial Review relates to a planning application for 2,000 dwellings at Winchester. The site is allocated as a ‘reserve’ site in the Winchester Local Plan and the revocation of the RSS and associated housing targets put into question the need for 2,000 dwellings in Winchester at this time.

More recently, 2 further legal challenges have been served in respect of sites at Bude, Cornwall and Rochford, Essex where the Secretary of State disregarded his Inspectors’ conclusions on housing land supply. These are due to be determined following the outcome of the CALA Homes challenge.

The question for landowners and developers is therefore whether to proceed with planning applications, abandon sites or to simply hold fire until there is more certainty. The answer is not straightforward. Councils are still required, by PPS3, to maintain a rolling five year supply of housing land, but given the lack of certainty over housing targets, it is difficult to ascertain whether a local authority has a ‘sufficient’ supply of housing.

However, it is relatively safe to presume housing may revert back to ‘Option 1’ figures or thereabouts. Large, strategic sites are likely to be worst hit, with it being very difficult to demonstrate insufficient housing land supply. Therefore, in this case continued LDF promotion will be the most preferential way forward. However, lower housing targets will mean more competition for allocation. Therefore submission ‘packs’ and background information should be as extensive as possible and demonstrate achievability, suitability and deliverability. Sites that do not provide this level of information can lose out to others that do.

Where an insufficient five year housing land supply can be demonstrated, developers with smaller sites should seriously consider proceeding directly to submitting applications before Councils allocate new housing. There are developers already adopting this ‘bulldog’ approach, and therefore, those that wait may lose their chance at demonstrating a lack of housing supply.