So Much for Luton’ Terror Tactics – Key DTC Test Case

Planning resource

A Home Counties council has launched a legal challenge against a neighbouring authority’s decision to approve a 5,000-home urban extension, arguing that it failed to meet the Duty to Cooperate and unlawfully re-drew green belt boundaries.

Luton Borough Council has applied for a judicial review to overturn the decision by Central Bedfordshire Council to give the green light to the extension, to the north of the town of Houghton Regis.

Central Bedfordshire Council approved the outline application, which proposes up to 5,150 homes and more than 200,000 square metres of retail and industrial space across 260 hectares of mostly farming land, on 2 June.

Luton Council claims that Central Bedfordshire did not comply with the Duty to Cooperate, a legal requirement under the Localism Act which means authorities have to continuously engage with neighbours on cross-border strategic issues such as housing.

It also argues that Central Bedfordshire has unlawfully re-drawn green belt boundaries in approving the application, a process that should be carried out in the local plan process.

A further ground of challenge is that Central Bedfordshire failed “to assess lawfully or at all the sequential test for the [scheme’s] retail proposals”.

In a statement, Luton Council confirmed that “on 8 July it started proceedings for a judicial review of Central Bedfordshire Council’s decision to grant planning permission for a major urban extension to the north of Houghton Regis comprising approximately 5,000 homes and employment uses including considerable volumes of retail and retail distribution floorspace”.

It added: “Luton contends that the application has not been determined correctly, specifically:

  • That in accordance with national guidance, the alteration of greenbelt boundaries should have been brought forward through Central Bedfordshire’s plan-making process rather than through the determination of a planning application
  • That the application has undermined Central Bedfordshire’s Local Plan by predetermining a number of significant issues
  • And that in determining the application, Central Bedfordshire Council has failed in its duty to cooperate with its neighbouring authority, especially given Luton’s very significant need for new housing and especially affordable homes which it cannot deliver within its own boundaries.”

Jason Longhurst, director of regeneration and business at Central Bedfordshire Council, said: “Luton Borough Council have lodged papers with the High Court, challenging Central Bedfordshire Council’s decision to approve the planning application for development to the north of Houghton Regis.

“The first stage requires a formal response to the grounds cited by Luton as forming the basis of their ‘challenge’ and the council’s legal representatives are working on our response at the moment.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment further or speculate ahead of any decision.”

Luton has long complained about the fact that it cannot meet its own housing need but neighbouring authorities are unwilling to take the extra homes.

In January, communities secretary Eric Pickles accused Luton of “terror tactics” and “trying to bully North Hertfordshire council” to take its extra homes.

Pickles’ comments were prompted by a question from Gavin Shuker, the Labour/Co-op MP for Luton South, asking how the borough should respond to the fact that, up to 2030, it needs about 30,000 new homes but can only build about 6,000 within its own boundaries.

In response to Pickles’ comments, Luton Council said: “The idea that Luton is not actively engaging with its neighbours to address its unmet housing need is completely incorrect”.

Of course the background here is that Luton wants west of Luton and Central Beds does not.  None the less the challenge is curious as under the now defunct joint plan North of Houghton Regis was down for major expansion, and has an approved development brief for 7,000 dwellings, and th eneed for Wet of Luton arose because of even from this an underestimation of OAN which led to West of Luton.  Curious they are not mutually exclusive.   At first sight it appears to breach the ‘very special circumstnaces’ test.  However noone is putting forward an laternarive relaistic plan which does not involve north fo Houghton Regis, so in those circumstances an advanced draft allocation is material and surely can be ‘very special’ circumstances as well as ‘exceptional’circumstances. The application was approved on 4th Sept 2013 by Central Beds and referred to the SoS who has declined to intervene.  The challenge stands no real chance of success mixing up plan making tests with DM ones.


Boris on ‘Nimbies in Disguise’


“Nimbies in disguise” are dishonestly claiming to care about architecture when in reality they want to block any development, Boris Johnson has said.

In a scathing assessment, the Mayor of London said homeowners “pretend” they care about new homes being affordable or well-designed, in fact they simply oppose new developments entirely.

Mr Johnson has promised to increase house-building in the capital, and wants to see 45,000 new homes by 2018.

However, he says he his efforts have been frustrated by residents opposed to any new development.

There is a particularly bitter planning fight over plans to build 700 flats on the site of a Royal Mail sorting office at Mount Pleasant, North London. Planning opponents say the scheme is “bland” and too few of the homes are “affordable”.

But Mr Johnson told the BBC: “Very often in London what you see is people objecting to a scheme purportedly because they say it fails such-and-such an architectural criteria, it’s not beautiful enough, or something like that. Or they say there isn’t enough affordable housing.

“I think it is odd that people actually try to stop developments going ahead. I think of the amazing development at Deptford [south east London] – that’s been blocked for twenty years.

“You have a coalition of people who pretend to be in favour of such-and-such a thing – better architecture or whatever – and what they want is no building in their area. You’ve got nimbies in disguise. That is very often the problem.”

Mr Johnson said cautioned wealthy foreigners against treating London property as “bank accounts in the sky”, saying the market is not “a one way bet”.

There are “signs of softening” at the top of the market, he said. The number of vacant properties in the capital is at its lowest level since the 1970s, he added.


Do Gladman’s Need Their Heads Examined?

Applying for a site on best and most versatile land contrary to the strategy of a recently approved post NPPF local plan, just because Blaby is the first special measures authority does not mean an inspector will throw away the book.

Beware – Don’t Hit This Sign

Rother Inspector Backs Liverpool

Examination Report

44. Paragraph 47 of the Framework requires local planning authorities to identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide five years worth of housing against their housing requirements. MM77 makes specific reference to this requirement (see also paragraph 21 above). The proposed target of 5,700 new homes equates to an annualised requirement for 335 dwellings and a five year supply of 1675 dwellings. The Framework also requires an additional buffer of 5%, moved forward from later in the plan period, or a 20% buffer where there has been a record of persistent under delivery of housing. In common with many other planning authorities, rates of housing delivery in Rother fell sharply after 2008, as a result of the economic recession, and have struggled to recover until relatively recently. Additionally, new housing development in Rother has been constrained for many years by uncertainty over the construction of the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road. Nonetheless, between 1991 and 2011 the annual average for housing completions in Rother was 245 dwellings per
annum, which is not too far short of the annualised housing requirement of about 275 dwellings per annum derived from the East Sussex and Brighton and Hove Structure Plan 1991 – 2011. I do not consider that Rother can be characterised as having a record of persistent under delivery of new housing and therefore a 5% buffer is appropriate in determining a five year housing land supply for Rother.
45. The relatively low number of housing completions (358 dwellings) in the first 2.5 years of the plan period (April 2011 to September 2013) gives rise to a shortfall of 480 dwellings. Planning practice guidance advises that ‘LPAs should aim to deal with any undersupply within the first five years of the plan period where possible’. Rother is only able to demonstrate a five year supply of housing land if this shortfall is made up over the remainder of the Plan period, rather than within in the first five years15. If the latter approach were taken the Council would be able to demonstrate only 4.3 years supply. However, there is a reasonable prospect that the housing land supply situation in Rother will improve considerably in the next few years for two main reasons. The first is that the completion of the Bexhill to Hastings Link Road will enable the planned urban extension to the north east of Bexhill, including about 1,300 dwellings, to be developed, and there is clear evidence
before me of the majority landowner’s commitment to expedite development of the site16. The adoption of the CS will assist in bringing forward this substantial development. Secondly, the DSAP and neighbourhood plans will allocate sites for development and help to boost the five year housing land supply. These Plans are likely to progress more quickly if an adopted CS is in place. In these particular circumstances, I consider that the Council’s approach to calculating the five year housing land supply is consistent with the broad thrust of the Framework to boost significantly the supply of land for housing, albeit that it takes a different approach to dealing with the undersupply which has arisen in the early years of the plan period than that preferred by planning practice guidance.

It helped that Hastings – in the same HMA – had earlier had its Liverpool method approved (pre NPPG) and Rother quoted Bloor Homes v Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government [2014] EWHC 754 (Admin) 

Bob Cowan on the Making of Planning Ministers

The Broken City Model of Urban Growth

Are some cities so ‘broken’ that they are prohibitively expensive to fix?

That thought has occurred to me considering the growth of Dubai, where its problems are being fixed, too late maybe, and at too great a cost if they were fixed earlier, and probably the much needed public transport and other investment is not occurring at a rate fast enough to overcome the problems caused by rapid growth.

There are examples of cities that have grown so fast and with so little public investment that the urban dis-economies of scale (congestion) are higher than the urban economies of agglomeration which drives city growth.  In those cases the growth of a city slows down as the city simply cannot afford, without very high local taxes, to continue growing at the same rate, and attempting to tax at this level can lead to a downward fiscal spiral, of the kind we have seen in rustbelt American cities. The classic example of a broken city is Mexico City, where growth stalled to 1-2% in the 1970s.  Toky0-Yokahama will soon be in the same position. Jakarta growth has slowed to less than 1.5% in the last decade.  Moscow has seen a similar dramatic decline in growth in the last decade.   Without a major fiscal injection from elsewhere in the national economy there is no way back for such cities, and this might not be possible at all if the city is a ‘primate’ city dominating the national economy.

So it is much better for a city not to be broken than to be fixed, as when you become broken the cries of liberalising controls on growth if heeded would make matters worse, the city would simply become more broken with excessive congestion and not being able to afford the public services to manage the problems of a large conurbation.  Eventually the problems for businesses and residents can become so great that it can precipitate decline, which once it takes hold as in Cleveland and St Lois is seemingly impossible.  The great challenge that is for cities still in their major growth phases, like New Dehli and Dubai, can they avoid breaking by investing in infrastructure fast enough and by guiding their planning to where infrastructure is most cost effective.  If they dont they are heading down a broken path.

The London Plan Does not Have to be Sound – So How will the Overspill Impass be Solved?

Last month NLP published a fascinating report on how the overspill from London might be met.

The number of houses that could therefore be exported across the South East from London over the next 10 years.. is between 70,000 and 200,000.

“This will necessitate LPAs that have a relationship with London’s housing market to plan for both their own needs as well as additional overspill from London.

“This is not something the GLA appears to have properly addressed, and the FALP does not deal with the issue.

“This, and the failure of the FALP to include a green belt review, is a significant omission that means the FALP is unsound.

There are a few problems with this.  Legally any plan (and the London plan is an SDS not a local plan) can only deal with proposals in their area. Though they can suggest overspill outside it.  Secondly the legislation covering the London plan is pre 2004.  That means it does not have top be sound. The Mayor has the power to reject panel recommendations unless the SoS uses reserve powers.  Thirdly of course under the ‘Boles doctrine’   the panel could only politely suggest a Green Belt review.  Which the Mayor of course would reject.

So how will the impasse be resolved?  The Mayor is covered by the DTC.  But providing they suggest what the overspill need is and engage constrictively he has met the duty.  Of course this just screws up dozens of plans in the ROSE (rest of South East) area.   So what to do?  London might be aboe to take some more.  But there will likely still be an overspill the scale of housing need is so great.  The SoS might also find themselves in a vulnerable position. Lets say the FALP panel recommends a limited Green Belt review in low amenity areas of the Metropolitan Green Belt close to public transport. Not a big source of supply as we have demonstrated on here before but a probable panel result. Lets say the Mayor rejects this and the SoS does not intervene.  This would then shoft 35,000 or so extra houses to the ROSE  area requiring further Green Belt releases outside London. Lets say then the SoS does not intervene.  This would leave the SoS vulnerable to JR as the sites outside London might be more important for Green Belt purposes less accessible and of greater Landscape value.  As recent debates in the West Midlands have demonstrated the issue of harm to the Green Belt is of which sites are least sensitive irrespective of which authpority they are in. Witness Cannock Chases letter to Brum. Hence any failure of the Mayor to conduct a Green Belt review and move to adopt the London Plan against a panel recommendation could lead to a coordinated JR from dozens of ROSE authorities.  Which would be interesting as the SDS legislation is so old and no longer fit for purpose.

Ok rather than everyone JRing the hell out of each other (conveniently after the next election when Paxo might be taking over from Boris) will sense prevail?  Boris might have the courage to commission the kind of quasi regional planning report as Birmingham have done suggesting where the overspill might go.  Unlikely Central Government would lean on him not to especially before an election.  ROSE authorities might do the same, even more unlikely why should Turkeys vote for Christmas? The only party whicch might would be the SOS which under this government is unlikely.

So what is the most likely outcome? Under the DTC authorities outside the Metropolitan Green Belt and inside London’s commuting range, like East Herts and East Cambs, will get crushed, at EIP and on appeal.  Eventually they might go for Garden Cities but given the London lead in time they would still get crushed on appeal for the next 10 years. Authorities wasjed over by the Me Green Belt, like Brentwood.  They have no incentive to put forward a local plan at al given the Pickles doctrine that housing need is not a very special circumstance.   In all a very special mess that will take a decade to fix following five years without planning.  In the interim villages outside the Green Belt with services will be crushed by inappropriately sized estates.

Can Any Local Plan in the SE Advance with 51 Authorities Meeting London Shortfall


The councils were responding to a letter from Stewart Murray, the GLA’s assistant director of planning, to Bedford Borough Council in March during a consultation on thedraft Further Alterations to the London Plan (FALP).

The FALP sets the capital’s ten-year housing target at 42,000 homes a year, but outlines an annual housing need of between 49,000 and 62,000.

In the letter, Murray said he wishes to “strongly advise” the council to take account of a potential gap between housing supply and a growing demand in their local plans.

The councils’ letter to Murray warns of “widespread concerns that (the FALP) potentially undershoots the provision of future homes that London needs”.

They say Murray’s letter “could be interpreted as suggesting that local authorities beyond London may need to play a part in making good any shortfall in supply”.

The councils express “real concerns” about this, stating that South East authorities “cannot possibly come to a realistic view on what level of need London might be failing to plan for or provide and what proportion of that failure it should seek to plan for in its development plan”.

Any need for the South East to contribute should be “tackled in a strategic and collaborative way” within the context of a “fundamental review” of the London Plan, it adds.

The authorities ask Murray for “confirmation that there is no intention or expectation for local authorities outside London to specifically plan for any level of London unmet need”.

Catriona Riddell, the Planning Officers Society’s strategic planning convener, said: “The surrounding authorities are in an impossible situation.

“The Mayor’s ‘softly, softly’ approach means that they have no idea what’s expected of them in supporting London’s growth.”

Sir Edward Lister, the GLA’s deputy mayor for planning, said the Mayor was “not asking councils outside London to take London’s unmet housing need” but was “simply recommending common sense, coordinated regional planning to ensure London and the south east’s housing needs are met over the coming years”.

So ‘common sense coordinated regional planning’ is the only way out of this impass – back to regional planning.  But under what structure and organised and led by whom?

Its Brentwood and Ongar FM at DCLG

Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles of Course used to cohost a sub-partridge radio show together.


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