Shottery Case at Stratford DC Looks Likely to be first ‘Degree of Consistency’ Test for SoS on #NPPF

Following comments on an earlier post on call ins its looks like the first, or one of the first, test cases for the SoS will land on the desk of the SoS post NPPF will be the case of Land West of Shottery – a proposed urban extension, including up to 800 houses, to the West of Stratford on Avon.  This is interesting as it is a site I know well from previous work for the District.

It was called in last October and should be on the SoS’s desk in a few weeks as the inquiry has just closed. (APP/J3720/A/11/2163206 ).  Dont hunt the proofs for statements on the NPPF as they were prepared when it was draft. These arguments appear to have been dealt with verbally in the main.

It has an interesting history as it is in the (2006 adopted)  local plan as a reserve site.  It was in the preferred option core strategy and now taken out following controversy in the latest draft core strategy which proposed instead a highly dispersed strategy.

Shottery is a village now merged with Stratford.  It is famous as the location of Anne Hathaways cottage.  At the local plan inquiry the inspector considered it suitable for housing and associated uses and considered on balance it would benefit heritage (from taking coaches out of the village through a new link road.

Apart from specific traffic and heritage issues the arguments have and will turn on housing issues.  The old West Midlands RSS, still part of the development plan set Stratford DC a very low target (170 /year), which according to the AMR (which excludes this site) it will easily meet.  The site was allocated as a reserve and would only be released (policy STR2A) if there was a shortfall.  So the issue then is is the plan out of date in housing terms.  According to DCLGs interpretation as an old style local plan para 215 applies:

due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of consistency with this framework (the closer the policies in the plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given).

Since 2006 household projections imply a much higher target for the area.  The abortive RSS changes would have sent the target up to over 500.  Strategic has lost an appeal on the southern edge of the town where the developer commissioned their own Chelmer style model.  The District also commissioned independent research on local housing need but then promptly rejected its conclusions.  In Sept 2011 they finally agreed a figure for the new local plan of 8,000 dwellings 2008-2028 which leaves a residual annual rate of 457 a year 2012-2017.  Given there were only 136 completions in completions last year and a shortage of identified sites that leaves, even according to the AMR only 3.4 years supply (before considering +5%).  We shall see if delivery is held to be ‘persistent under-delivery’ since 2008.

Determining what the precise level of objective need is for Stratford wont really be an issue as however you set it del;ivery will be well short of it.

So the logic of any inspector on this point will be – is it in line with the DP, no, is it out of date – yes it has no  five year supply on the current estimate of ‘locally identified need’ .  Policy STR2A allows release when there is a shortage so read in this light its release would be appropriate in line with the DP interpreted in the light of current evidence.

So are there other material considerations that will outweigh it.  Well there is an emerging local plan where because of fierce lobbying by a group called Stratford Voice includes none of the previously proposed Greenfield sites releases, most development going to scattered as yet unidentified sites in many villages.

The issue will become then the weight to be given to this emerging plan in line with NPPF para 216

decision-takers may also give weight (unless material considerations indicate otherwise) to relevant policies in emerging plans according to:
● the stage of preparation of the emerging plan (the more advanced the preparation, the greater the weight that may be given);
● the extent to which there are unresolved objections to relevant policies (the less significant the unresolved objections, the greater the weight that may be given); and
● the degree of consistency of the relevant policies in the emerging plan to the policies in this Framework (the closer the policies in the emerging plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given).

Its not yet submitted and subject to masses of unresolved objections – so likely to be given ‘limited weight’ by the inspector.  It would also be an incredible stretch to say the emerging plan strategy complied with the NPPF as it allocates most development to locations well away from good public transport and services on sites which haven’t been identified for which there is no evidence they would be deliverable.  Personally I think it would be impossible to conclude that the approach the draft approach complies with NPPF30.

In preparing Local Plans, local planning authorities should therefore support a pattern of development
which, where reasonable to do so, facilitates the use of sustainable modes of transport.

So the weight given to the emerging plan may shift from limited to ‘very limited’.

So bar any unexpected rabbit out of the hat on heritage of traffic the recommendation is likely to be approval.

Then the SoS is likely to face a dilemma between local choice and his own policy.  From Stratford Herald.

Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi [has written] to Mr Pickles seeking clarification of his move. In an allusion to “localism”, Mr Zahawi said: “This government’s primary direction of travel is to put decisions as close to those affected by them as possible.

“As such we have done away with regional spatial strategies and allowed the council to come up with its own housing needs numbers and a plan to deliver them. What we don’t want to see is these overridden before they can be put into action, and a return to top down imposition. That is why I have written to the secretary of state, to get clarity over the current situation and ensure that he is fully aware of the facts.”

But perhaps the bluntest Tory-to-Tory message to Mr Pickles came from Cllr Chris Saint (Cons, Tredington), the leader of Stratford District Council—whose west area planning committee unanimously rejected the Shottery housing scheme put forward by Bloor Homes and Hallam Land Management. It is this rejection that has led to the impending planning appeal.

In a robust statement—and also with “localism” in mind—Cllr Saint said: “I would expect the secretary of state to take full regard of the council’s position. I would expect him to put his money where his mouth is.”

Yesterday a spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government told the Herald that Mr Pickles would be unlikely to respond in any specific way to the letter from Mr Zahawi because all parties concerned were now involved in a quasi-judicial process and the minister would not want to be seen to be pre-judging the issues.

However, Cllr Mike Gittus (Cons, Kinwarton), the district council’s portfolio holder for environment and planning, pointed out that in three recent cases where Mr Pickles had personally decided the outcome of planning appeals he’d ruled in favour of the local communities. [eerr all on unallocated sites not relevant]  “He’s demonstrated his enthusiasm for localism over super-development,” said Cllr Gittus.

But the opposition Liberal Democrats on the district council are wondering whether the direct involvement of Mr Pickles could be bad news for those opposed to the Shottery proposals.

Cllr Peter Moorse (Lib Dem, Stratford) declared: “I think we all share the concern that this could be a way of making sure that Shottery gets developed. The local Conservatives must rue the day they insisted that Shottery went into the local plan for development.”

If Pickles did cook up a refusal for the site on the basis of ‘localism’ (even though cough cough the site is in an adopted local plan) expect a court challenge on the basis of the SoS ignoring his own policies let alone section 38(6).  He might try and wriggle out of this by cooking up a heritage grounds, however in setting a precedent which would rule this site out of the local plan he would in effect be diverting development to many pretty villages, including picturebook Cotswold and other villages, which might have a greater heritage impact, so again he might open it up to JR.

Its the kind of case that sites on the desk of ministers for months because they dread having to take a decision on them.  Expect JS Bloor (Tewksbury) Limited V SoS to be a prominent case around October 2012.

Has DCLG stopped Calling in Applications to Avoid Making Decisions on the #NPPF ?

There was a marked slowdown in call-in and recovery even before the NPPF was finalised.  Many have suspected that policy has changed.  When asked the question at DCLG questions over whether policy had changed Greg Clarke gave a non answer over whether it had simply saying ‘basically’ it was cases of national importance only – so no call ins when LPAs make dodgy decisions over land they own then.

I like many have been eagerly checking the DCLG website to see the first post NPPF SoS decision to see if it provides some clarity on the foggy key issues over how to calculate 5 year supply, whether a true brownfield first policy applied etc. etc.  To no avail.  Today I did something I am kicking myself for not doing before, searching the DCLG database for any decision pending cases (the database seems to classify call-ins and recovereds the same).  The result:

Nothing, none at all, searching for any and every undecided SoS case?

Is this right does anyone know of an undecided call in appeal?

In my view a deliberate policy decision has been made to wind down call ins call the decisions local and remove the SoS from the frame.  Part of this is the ideology of localism, but part to a reflection of the muddiness of the NPPF where many important policy decisions – such as whether you could refuse greenfield schemes if there were brownfield alternative, and the fact that the ‘intrinsic value’ of the countryside is only an objective and not a policy for countryside protection – were left hanging in debates between the Treasury and the DCLG.  As a result the new doctrine’ you decide what it means’ and the decision that the NPPF helpline would not offer any help at all on the NPPF.  If there is uncertainty on meaning you sort it out, each inspector, each LPA is on their own.  The implication also being that the role of precedent is weakened, there is no longer a central arbiter.  If localism is applied you can always argue an appeal in Kent sets no precedent in Norfolk because each locality, each inspector is on their own in the interpretation game.

In short for non non-infrastructure cases we no longer have a national planning system, just a minimum national policy – the NPPF, and multiple local systems that can interpret as they like as long as they meet minimum legal requirements (duty to cooperate etc.) and they can satisfy the evidential burden requirements of individual inspectors.

We are therefore wholly reliant on planning inspectors to provide any degree of consistency for developers operating on a national scale.  Rather than providing certainty and a common minimum standard to inspire confidence in investment the NPPF has simply created a fog of risk, the site by site evalutation being – how far will the LPA push this, and can we take the risk of an appeal when there is no certain standard against this will be judged.

China Heads Towards Hard Landing as Property Prices and Bank Lending Crash – Great Depression 2?

All eyes are on the Eurozone and Greece, and eyes taken off China.  The Eurozone seems to have so far had the knack of kicking the can down the road 3-4 months each time to avoid a banking crisis.  But what might well trigger an event is the rapidly increasing evidence of a hard landing in China, despite the many punbdits saying that it will only be soft; but not just any hard landing, a very hard landing.

Consider the evidence:

Now, we learn that the big four banks are still virtually lending nothing in the first 20 days.  Well just RMB34 billion actually, to be precise, compared with over a trillion in March for the total banking system, according  At the same time, the big 4 banks are still losing RMB270 billion of deposits in the first 20 days

  • A collapse in property prices and rise in unsold housing inventory.  China now only reports official statistics on a city by city basis and in April they fell in 46 of 70 markets. This is at a time of rapidly increasing property completions which is not a good combination at it will lead to unsold inventory and firesales by property investors.  Indeed property starts have collapsed, a lead indicator down 27% from April v March according to Cross and Lee.  This crash has already begun in Shanghai where new inventory has shrunk by 56.3% in Q1 and one developer more than halved prices to clear inventory.  

  • Chinese commodity demand is in large part driven by the construction sector, and commodities like copper have been used as collateral for loans.  A collapse in asset prices will have a knock on effect on bank balance sheets if loans are called in and banks in unison attempt to shore up their balance sheets by selling collaterol.  

  • China is no longer internationally competitive.  China has been seeing 20% wage rises per annum.  The one child per family policy means that China has only so much labour to call on and the living costs for that labour have risen.  As a result low cost labour is moving out of China into lower cost economies  

We have heard for years from the ‘This Time its Different’ brigade about China.  That somehow it moves in world beyond economic and biophysical reality that will ensure it will become the worlds main economic power by 2020 etc.  Every country is different but no country can dodge the bullet of a collapse in debt fuelled urbanisation that all export orientated economies have experienced throughout history.  The ‘differences’ quoted here are that the Chinese are avid savers and Chinese banks are not avid lenders towards domestic mortgages.  The argument goes, repeated a thousand times, that the normal deflationary feedback from a property collapse will not feedback to banks and so we wont see the banking liquidity leading to balance sheet recession problems we see in countries where banks are primary mortgage lenders .  Putting aside that the same ‘this time its different crowd’ were making firm and foolish predictions that Chinese property prices  would rise forever because of population pressures Chinese banks have been major lenders to well connected property investors, so if these investors stop seeing a cash flow from rents or sales through unsold inventory the ability of banks to expand their balance sheets will decrease.  Banks will be forced to reinforce their capital rather than expand lending.  Secondly even if banks are not major players in mortgage markets that vacuum is filled, in large part by shadow banking.  So if borrowers from shadow banks hot problems they may not pay into conventional banks and neither will shadow bankers, who need to recycle their profits through the conventional banks to obtain currency, use cashpoints, transfer electronically etc.