Update – April 2017

Planned and deliver

Lichfields published its fifth annual review of local plans last week, five years since the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) came into existence. The report makes for some very interesting reading, revealing the struggle many local authorities are currently in to bring forward their local plans. Some interesting statistics included within the report:

  • 161 local plans examined or submitted for examination since the introduction of the NPPF.
  • 105 local plans found sound with 36% of LPAs boasting an up-to-date local plan against the NPPF.
  • 43% of LPAs are yet even to publish a draft local plan ready for submission to Government.
  • Almost half of plans had to alter their housing requirement in order to be found sound
  • 30% of sound plans subject to an ‘early review’.
  • 71% of approved plans include time limits for the early review in some way. Of the eight plans where that time limit has passed, not one has been completed as envisaged.
  • 16.8 months is the average time it takes to examine and scrutinise a local plan (up from 9.7 months pre-NPPF).
  • 56% of LPAs are likely to fall foul of the new housing delivery test in November 2017. The report explores the proposed ‘housing delivery test’ and identifies 222 local authority areas that may face the consequences of needing an action plan or application of a 20% buffer on their five year land supply as of November 2017 if recent rates of delivery do not improve.

Click here to view the full Lichfield report.

NPPF review

Earlier this month, the DCLG Select Committee called for a full review of the NPPF saying that there has not been sufficient objective and evidence-based monitoring or any review to see if the NPPF is working since it was introduced in 2012.

There have been various changes to planning and proposals, all of which impact upon the operation of the NPPF. These have included the government’s technical consultation on implementing planning changes, the Housing and Planning Bill and the Local Plans Expert Group.

Clive Betts MP, chair of the committee, said: “Particularly at a time of significant change for the planning and housing sectors, it’s important that people are reassured that the National Planning Policy Framework works effectively and that it supports sustainable development in their communities.”

The select committee’s report is an inquiry into the government’s own consultation on proposed changes which was launched in December 2015.

The report is also critical of local authorities. Clive Betts continued: “Councils need to do more to identify suitable brownfield sites and to protect their communities against the threat of undesirable development by getting an adopted Local Plan in place. The NPPF is designed to work side by side with local plans. It’s simply not good enough that 34% of local authorities don’t have an adopted plan.”

 DCLG intervention threat off the table …. for the time being

Last month we reported that DCLG had every intention of intervening in councils which had not progressed their local plans, but this month we can reveal that this is not the case. Gavin Barwell, minister for planning, said in an interview with Planning magazine at the end of last month that although the long term aim was to intervene in plan-making where necessary, this is unlikely until the standardised method of assessing housing need had been published, and a revised version of the NPPF was in place. So, not any time soon.

Stormy waters for Waverley

On top of the local plan Inspector coming back with some challenging questions, Waverley has encountered another problem, this time to do with the five-year land supply. Karen Ridge, an inspector allowing an appeal for 69 homes at Elstead, has ruled that Waverley needs to have a 20 per cent buffer in its housing targets to reflect the poor delivery in recent years, which means the borough does not now have a five-year land supply.

Waverley reported having a 5.79 year supply in January, based on a five per cent buffer. The increase to 20 per cent means the council now does not have the adequate supply (4.63 years) and needs to find more land for new homes. Elizabeth Sims, head of planning, has said the council will not rush to do anything for the time being in a hope that the inspector reviewing the local plan will have a different view to Karen Ridge.

But in a further blow to the council, the approval of 1,800 new homes at Dunsfold Airfield, a key plank of numbers in the local plan, has been called in by the Secretary of State. This will inevitably mean a delay with the local plan as it will be a crucial decision in terms of delivery of numbers. In an executive meeting last week, the council allocated £200,000 of council tax money to cover the defence of the local plan.

Full steam ahead at Farnham

The Farnham Neighbourhood Plan will go to a referendum in May, but there is some question as to how this can be considered to be in conformity with the Waverley Local Plan when the local plan appears to be falling to pieces. What the independent assessor actually confirmed was that the neighbourhood plan was in conformity with the existing (2002) local plan. When the new local plan is approved, the neighbourhood plan will be out-of-date and need review.

Residents of Farnham will be hoping the neighbourhood plan will be passed which will give the town some protection from the failings of the local plan as only a three-year land supply is required to stop speculative development. This new rule was brought in by a Written Ministerial Statement last December, changing the rules immediately.

Even this is in doubt as a group of developers, led by Richborough Estates, has lodged an application for a judicial review of the way the minister has changed fundamental planning rules which have stood for decades by decree with no consultation with the industry.

Environment gazumps housing need at Wealden?

Environmental considerations have resulted in Wealden significantly reducing housing numbers. This sets it on a collision path with government as it raises the question of what has precedence; environmental protection or housing need? Most environmental protection will be encapsulated in UK law through the great repeal bill currently being prepared by government for when Brexit happens in 2019. This may be the first challenge to EU environmental laws as whatever happens, this is likely to end up in the courts.

Wealden Council published its local plan in March and must now build 14,101 new homes (compared with the previous OAN of 19,509). The revised figures are due to the sensitive environmental issues across the District, particularly Ashdown Forest, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covering some 560 square miles. The revised figures take into account the results of the latest nitrogen deposition monitoring that has been taking place on Ashdown Forest regarding nitrogen emissions from vehicles and other sources. These showed that the amount of nitrogen is already exceeding levels that can cause ecological damage to the heathland. Monitoring of the air pollution around Ashdown Forest will continue and there may be further adjustments if evidence suggests they are required.

The revised figures include proposals in adjoining districts such as Lewes and Mid Sussex. As they have already announced housing numbers Wealden has had to take into account the impact of their developments on nitrogen and reduce its numbers accordingly.

But it is not clear whether this will be accepted by the Planning Inspectorate or DCLG. Wealden is following the path it needs to follow according to the EU legislation, but does it prevail over housing need? The Inspector will have a view as the draft submission has been approved by full council in March and submission is imminent.

Basildon battles loom

From May, Basildon council will drop the cabinet system and revert back to the committee system. Last December, Labour, UKIP and independent councillors joined to vote against the Conservatives. Currently, seven Conservative councillors (The Cabinet) have the power to make key decisions without involving opposition members, but from May, decisions will be made by a series of committees involving members from the opposition parties.

As the balance of power in Basildon is no overall control (Conservatives 19, UKIP 10, Labour 9 and others 4) the decision making process in the council will become more obstructed and prolonged. One Conservative councillor predicts it is going to be a disaster. It is clear that meetings will certainly become more interesting in Basildon.

Oxford blues

Passions in Oxfordshire have been running high as divisions between the councils appear to have widened. There are four districts (South Oxfordshire, Vale of White Horse, Cherwell and West Oxfordshire), Oxford City and Oxfordshire County councils.

Last month, Oxfordshire County Council, with the support of the Vale of White Horse and South Oxfordshire councils, submitted a bid for a single county unitary authority to be considered by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The Better Oxfordshire proposal suggests that this would reduce the number of councillors in Oxfordshire from 282 to between 100 and 125. The proposal estimates that the changes could save £20 million worth of efficiency savings annually.

The remaining councils, Cherwell, West Oxfordshire and Oxford City, have made their opposition to the Better Oxfordshire proposal clear, although it is primarily the Labour-run Oxford City Council, not the two Conservative-run councils, which has taken-up the reigns of vigorous opposition.

It is unlikely DCLG will agree to a proposal that is causing so much division between five of its councils which are very safely Conservative. Government will be keen not to alienate any potential foot soldiers, or involve itself in an argument which could potentially damage the Conservative brand, seeking to avoid ‘Blue on Blue’ stories. This argument has some way to go yet.

Neighbourhood Planning

A couple of amendments were added to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill in the Lords last month, introducing new duties designed to improve dialogue between participants during examination. The first will require examiners to publish a draft report containing the recommendations that they are ‘minded’ to make, whereas another will require the examiner to hold meetings with participants involved if requested to do so.

These steps, introduced by Communities Minister Lord Bourne, are designed to increase engagement between examiners and neighbourhood plan groups, and remove the chance of surprises which undermine the process. At the same time, it looks as though the process may become more complex, extended and so more costly.