Development Plans - Planning to Fail?
As featured in The Planner, available here
We all know that an early, easy to read and relevant Development Plan is the basis upon which the planning world should function. But, as ever, this remains a pipe dream.
The government seems to be pushing hard for plans to be in place as soon as possible and in recent examinations into Local Plans, I have seen first-hand how inspectors are assisting with this process. This may be laudable but what are the outcomes?
Firstly, inspectors are switching to what is referred to as the “Liverpool” method, suggesting that any shortfall in the housing provision can be made up over the whole planning period - not in the first five years. So much for significantly boosting housing supply!
Secondly, and starkly, some inspectors are even narrowing down the ability for genuine objectors to even properly critique the planning process as is happening in Cheshire East. Currently, objectors are not allowed to introduce any new evidence to challenge the Councils’ mountains of new evidence, and are only allowed to comment on changes to a plan.
Even more worrying is that in some instances (such as Cheshire West), the past under-delivery of housing from the previous planning period was simply wiped away from memory! It was never put into the new plan.
The government’s expert panel is also looking at ways to speed up the examination process, which again may lead to shortcuts being taken when ensuring the planning process is thoroughly examined.
What are the consequences?
The approach to spreading housing through the planning period does nothing to actually boost housing supply; a core principle of government policy. It will no doubt follow that Councils in some areas, usually those under most pressure to release green field sites (and often Conservative controlled) will use the opportunity to stall giving consents for a period of time because they will ‘magically’ have a time period where there is supposedly a five year supply of housing.
But, not for long. It’s a simple mathematical projection that sooner or later (and probably sooner), they will end up with insufficient housing supply, probably challenged by appellants at inquiry, and will be forced into an early planning review process. After all, few Planning Authorities ever seem to voluntarily undertake a review - even if they promised to do so.
Then we have Neighbourhood Plans. Every such plan that I have seen to date has been process-led by local people who (for good or bad) see them as an exercise in restricting development - not boosting supply. Ludicrously, some plans are made and somehow allowed - even if they are tied to out of date plans, to then be out of date immediately because of no five-year land supply. It begs the question as to why such an exercise is undertaken. Yet somehow the Planning Minister thinks that the Planning Inspectorate will place significant weight on such plans.
Exactly what message is the government trying to send out here? On the one hand, let’s be a nation of house builders; on the other hand, support Neighbourhood Plans whether they are linked to an up to date plan or not, and whether they block development or not. The situation on the ground is ridiculous to say the least, for everyone – not just advisors like me.
My cynical side would lead me to believe that the Treasury are pushing harder to be more permissive, while those closer to Conservative Local Councils see how Neighbourhood Plans can block development. This was brought into stark relief only last week when the House of Lords amended the Housing and Planning Bill to allow Neighbourhood organisations to appeal against approvals for the first time. However, there is one caveat – they have to have a housing site designated in their Neighbourhood Plan. So for very little effect, the whole planning system will be further grounded by appeal after appeal and further court cases.
Images sourced from:
Workers of Building Site by Michael Coglan via flickr
skys the limit2 - Downtown Dallas at night via flickr