Welcome to the sixth edition of ‘The Source’ – prepared by the Strategic Land Team at Gladman with the specific aim of better informing you with regard to current news and views in land & planning.
DCLG Local Plans Study
The Government has embarked on an evidence gathering exercise to help inform a review of the local plan-making process – ‘Local Plans Expert Group Consultation’. The consultation is currently live however with only two working days left to make representations, closing on 23rd October, it really is important to submit your thoughts as soon as possible. In the experience of our Local Plan Team there are many areas where plan making can be improved.
The Government and almost every group or business with an involvement in housing, agree that there is a huge backlog and woefully insufficient production of homes. It seems to us that the single most important area to focus on must be ensuring that Councils plan ‘ambitiously’ for growth, in order to meet the Government’s policy imperative of ‘boosting significantly’ the supply of housing.
More often than not, new homes are provided after much complication and delay. In respect to Local Plan some Councils use “Objective Assessment of Need” (OAN) as a way to stifle new development by using parameters and consultants who take the most pessimistic and minimalistic view of real housing needs. Mismatching economic policy aspirations with housing requirements is common place, as is adopting a cautious or pessimistic assessment of economic performance because this coincidently suppresses housing need. It also seems coincidental that since the Satnam Millenium judgment (which confirms the NPPF requirement that the full OAN figure applies to market and affordable homes) many authorities have reassessed and dramatically reduced their affordable housing needs because of the implication high affordable housing need has on OAN.
The most worrying reason used to supress OAN is a conscious decision by Councils to exclude an upward adjustment for a market signal indicator, as it directly impacts on those most in need of housing. It is common for a Council to claim that they do not have an affordability issue, yet the young people and families on average incomes are unable to buy a house in that Authority.
Political pressure means that it can be difficult for Councillors to remain ‘objective’ when it comes to assessing housing need, and all too often the OAN is interfered with too early in the process. The task of assessing need should, in our opinion, rest with the professional planners and economists who understand the complex inter-relationships of economic and housing needs. Only after the OAN is established, should Councillors become involved in the process providing input into the upward or downward adjustments that should be used to establish an eventual housing requirement.
Delivering the right number of homes is fundamental to producing a Local Plan, therefore getting the OAN right at the beginning of the process is paramount. Without a true OAN, millions of families, businesses, jobs, the economy, social deprivation, mobility of the workforce, road congestion caused by long unnecessary commutes to work, homelessness and numerous other social and economic issues are negatively affected as a direct result of not building the right number of homes in the places they are needed.
Have your say!
The National Crusade on Housing: David Cameron on Local Plans
In a recent press release David Cameron has stated that Councils are now under obligation to produce a Local Plan for their area by 2017 in order to help reach the Government’s ambition to deliver 1 million new homes by 2020 or the Government will ensure those plans are produced for them. Despite 82% of Councils producing a plan, one in five do not have a draft plan in place and only 65% have succeeded in adopting them.
The Government is keen for Local Plans to increase home ownership and intends on extending the Right to Buy to 1.3 million families as early as next year and has also confirmed measures to deliver 200,000 starter homes annually. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has criticised Cameron’s proposal to extend the Right to Buy programme, stating that Cameron will be guilty of the death of social housing if plans go ahead. Indeed, a report in ‘The Times’ has suggested that ministers “are planning to restrict the extended Right to Buy policy to older tenants in the first few years following signs that the controversial policy will cost far more than expected”. ‘Whitehall sources’ told The Times “that the plan to extend Right to Buy to 1.3 million housing association tenants would be targeted first at those who have rented their homes for 20 or 25 years to ensure a much smaller take-up”.
Speaking on 12th October Cameron said that “everyone must play their part” and councils are warned “come up with a plan to build or we will do it for you. A Greater Britain must mean more families having the security and stability of owning a home of their own and my government will do everything it can to help people buy a place of their own – at the heart of this is our ambition to build 1 million new homes by 2020”.
Call for Evidence from Local Plans Expert Group
The panel of experts launched by the Minister for Housing and Planning, Mr Brandon Lewis MP on 15 September, to examine what measures or reforms could be helpful in ensuring the production of Local Plans is efficient and effective, are now inviting views from the planning and property industry, local government and other stakeholders by Friday 23 October. The submission are to be addressed to email@example.com and are asked to be clear and concise but there is no word limit to the response.
There are a number of principal headings that the group has provided for the responses to fall under and address; the content of Local Plans, the Local Plan preparation process, agreeing strategic requirements, implementation, personal observations and other measures.
Unblocking Drainage Issues – continued…..
In Edition 2 of The Source we drew attention to the approach adopted by an Inspector towards the necessity of conditions requiring approval of foul drainage schemes. In that case, the Inspector took the view that because of the legal right for development to connect to the foul water network, and because of the time that the water company had been aware of the proposals, there was no necessity for a condition requiring approval of a scheme for a sewage connection.
More recently, a similar approach has been adopted by an Inspector when approving residential development in Mickleton. In that case the Inspector stated:
“The foul sewage and the water supply systems involve infrastructure elements that are inadequate. The consultation response from Thames Water suggests that conditions should be imposed to require an assessment of the additional capacity that might be required and to indicate suitable connection points. However, there is a statutory duty to provide such connections under the requirements of the Water lndustry Act 1991. Hence, there would be no need for planning conditions to duplicate powers available under other legislation, as the submitted notes confirm.”
Starter Homes – Will they be Affordable?
A report by Shelter in August examined whether the Government’s new starter home initiative will help people on lower incomes access the property ladder. The report measures Councils affordability against a number of indicators. It is no surprise that the South East, East of England and London are the areas where most of the affordability indicators are exceeded – but the report also identifies particularly acute affordability issues in other locations such as Stratford-on-Avon and Warwick in the West Midlands.
A Curious Reason for Recovering an Appeal Decision
In December 2014, an appeal for up to 53 new homes in Milton Keynes was recovered for the Secretary of State’s determination as the proposal involved residential development in an area where a neighbourhood plan proposal has been submitted to the LPA or where a plan has been made.
However, while located in the settlement of Woburn Sands, the appeal location does not sit within the designated area of the Woburn Sands Neighbourhood Plan (WSNP) which was ‘made’ in July 2014. Instead it sits within the Wavendon Neighbourhood Plan (WNP) area. The WNP is currently at an early stage and no documents relating to that plan were submitted to the inquiry.
At the beginning of October the decision was issued; the Secretary of State agreeing with the Inspector that the appeal be allowed and that ‘the WSNP does not form part of the development plan for this appeal’. It was also agreed that the WNP should have ‘very limited weight’ attached to it.
One of the issues was surrounding a policy within the WSPN which aims to preserve the countryside setting, existing woodland and footpath links into the countryside as a key feature of Woburn Sands, restricting any changes to the development boundary on that basis. It was decided by the Inspector that the appeal proposal would preserve the footpaths and woodland and while she acknowledges that the appeal site being outside the development boundary (as set out in the WSNP policy) is a material consideration, it is one to which very limited weight can be attached.
The Deregulation Bill 2015
The Deregulation Bill was given Royal Assent on 26th March 2015, which coincided with the Government’s Written Ministerial Statement setting out the conclusions to the Housing Standards Review and how these would be applied through planning policy.
The Written Ministerial Statement set outs that from 26th March 2015, Local Planning Authorities and qualifying bodies preparing neighbourhood plans should not set in their emerging Local Plans, neighbourhood plans or supplementary planning documents, any additional local technical standards or requirements relating to the construction, internal layout or performance of new dwellings. This includes any policies requiring any level of the Code for Sustainable Homes.
The requirement for Code for Sustainable Homes has now been withdrawn, aside from the management of legacy cases. For planning applications from 1st October 2015, the new National Technical Standards will replace the Code for Sustainable Homes, but this can only be applied where there is a relevant Local Plan Policy. The Government has stated that from this date, the energy performance requirements in Building Regulations will be set at a level equivalent to the Code for Sustainable Homes Level 4.
Prior to the Deregulation Bill, some Local Planning Authorities (LPA) adopted policies requiring compliance with the Code for Sustainable Homes. For example, the Central Lancashire Core Strategy (adopted July 2012) includes a policy that states all new dwellings are required to meet Code Level 6 from January 2016, a requirement far in excess of building regulations. The Deregulation Bill renders such policies out of date and it provides an opportunity for housebuilders to amend or delete conditions on planning permissions requiring compliance with the Code.
Shadow Housing and Planning Minister launches the ‘Redfern Review’
Labour’s Minister for Housing and Planning, John Healey has announced that chief executive of Taylor Wimpey, Peter Redfern will conduct an independent review into the root causes of declining homeownership which will suggest ideas for tackling the problem.
His advisory panel will include Terrie Alafat, Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing; Kate Barker, author of the Barker Report on Housing Supply for the Labour Government in 2004; and Ian Mulheirn, Director at Oxford Economics; and will report in summer 2016.
In announcing the review at the Labour Party Conference, John Healey stated “George Osborne was right to describe this decline in home ownership as a tragedy but it’s happening on his watch, it’s part of his party’s five years of failure.”
Mr. Healey also noted that Labour would oppose the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants. In a later interview he explained, “We shouldn’t be selling houses when we have the housing crisis.”
Mr. Healey had previously said that the state could build 100,000 new council houses and housing association homes a year to tackle the housing benefit bill and affordability. The Conservatives announced a week later that 200,000 discounted “starter homes” would be provided annually by 2020 with prices capped at £250,000 and £450,000 in London.
Chair of the Review Panel, Mr. Redfern said: “Enabling more British people to own their own homes is fundamental to creating a flourishing society and is an issue that has a profound impact on the country. This is not about politics, it affects us all. I feel strongly that home ownership has never reached the right level in our society.”
House Builder News
McCarthy & Stone has Announced its Intention to Float on the London Stock Exchange
The retirement housebuilder intends to raise £70 million from an initial public offering (IPO) to further invest in land and build, allowing the group to “move to the next stage” of its development.
McStone currently enjoys a 70% share of the owner-occupier retirement market. Earlier this month it announced that it had increased its investment target in land and build from £2 billion to £2.5 billion over the next four financial years. The company remains on track to sell more than 3,000 units per annum over the medium term as planned.
The admission is likely to take place in November.
Clive Fenton, McStone’s CEO, said: “This is an incredibly exciting time in the company’s evolution. There is a structural under-supply of specialist retirement housing in the UK and McCarthy & Stone has the expertise, track record and financial strength to address this need.”
Bellway Sold a Record Number of Homes in the Year to July 2015
Bellway sold a record number of homes in the year to July 2015, helping the firm increase profit by 44% to £354.2 million. On the back of this, Bellway proposes to raise its final dividend by 44% to 52p per share bringing the total for the year to 77p.
Announcing its preliminary results [13 October 2015], Bellway said it sold 7,752 homes in the year, an increase of 13.2%. The firm says that it has the capacity to continue its growth strategy “investing in high quality locations” and opening a new south west division in Bristol and another in Kent.
Interesting Appeal Decisions
At Gladman, we monitor all residential appeal decisions issued by the Planning Inspectorate, to better understand current interpretations of government planning policy.
Housing Site in Flood Risk Sunk
The primary issue of an appeal for 76 dwellings in East-the-Water (Torridge District) was whether the site complies with National Policy on Flood Risk. Having considered the issue in great detail the Inspector concluded that part of the site within Flood Zone 3 would need to provide benefits to the community that outweigh the flood risk, and that the site should be safe for its lifetime without increasing flood risk elsewhere. The appellant argued that layout could be considered at Reserved Matters stage but the Inspector felt that the actual feasibility of the site should be demonstrated at outline stage and accordingly she dismissed the appeal.
Big Fish in a Little Pond
An appeal for the development of 72 dwellings, which would effectively double the size of a small settlement in Tewkesbury District has been dismissed. Despite the council being unable to demonstrate a five year housing land supply and needing to take some of the other HMA settlements’ shortfall (Gloucester and Cheltenham), the Inspector found that the benefits of housing provision were outweighed by the scheme’s potential negative impacts. The most important of these impacts would have been the harm caused to the LPA’s AONB and the Special Landscape Area, valued landscapes that the Framework seeks to protect and enhance.
Site Sticking out like a Sore Thumb Dismissed
A scheme for 32 dwellings in Burbage, Leicestershire was dismissed at appeal following refusal by Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council. The proposal, which was reduced drastically in scale to 14 dwellings for the appeal, caused significant issues with regard to character and appearance. The scheme was described by the inspector as an ‘isolated finger of development that would protrude into the rural landscape’, and he was not convinced that good design could mitigate the detrimental effects. The demonstrable harm was not outweighed by the social and economic benefits of the scheme, with the poor accessibility of the site for pedestrians noted. The planning balance was deemed to weigh against the proposal and as such the appeal was dismissed.
Drumlins Appear as Reason for Dismissal
An appeal for 12 dwellings in Aldcliffe, Lancaster was dismissed as the Inspector identified an impact on the character and appearance of the area. Despite the lack of shops, facilities and bus service, it was noted that the settlement would be a sustainable location given its close proximity to Lancaster. The proposal would not cause harm to health of users on the local highway network and would provide market and affordable housing where only 3.3 years supply exists. However, although it was agreed the proposal was not likely to cause and significant effects on Natura 2000 sites, the proposals would be elevated into a locally important and distinctive landscape of low coastal drumlins, affecting the localised character of Aldcliffe Hall Lane, this coupled with the harm to the numerous tranquil public vantage points led to the Inspector concluding that that the environmental impacts on character and appearance significantly and demonstrably outweighed the benefits.
High Density Scheme has no Impact on Character or Residential Amenity
An appeal by Seagate Homes Ltd for 14 dwellings in Spalding was allowed against the decision of South Holland District Council. The Inspector found the main issues to be the impact on character and appearance of the settlement owing to density as well as the effect the development might have on future occupiers of proposed dwellings. The inspector swiftly deals with the density of proposed development, saying that although it would be dense it would not conflict harmfully with the character and appearance of the settlement. In allowing the appeal, the Inspector found that there was no particular evidence to support the claims of impact on future dwellers.
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