In a tweet yesterday Eric Pickles announced
“I have just laid an Order in Parliament revoking the East of England Regional Strategy. Housing numbers now back under local control”.
But after revocation one thing local planning authorities will have very little control over is the housing numbers in their local plans. Indeed local planning authorities have as much control over lowering housing targets as they have over raising council tax over the capped limits i.e. zero.
Lets recap on some of the issues covered in this blog. Before the election Caroline Spelman wrote to conservative authorities saying how in a post RSS world LPAs would be able to lower housing targets, later Pickles stated that revocation would mean removal of over 20 threats to revised Green Belt boundaries (on the latter point Ill blog later today, but you can guess where I’m coming from. Green Belt revision is now back on the Agenda, with a vengeance) .
Their was a threat that removal of RSS would leave many holes, particularly for authorities that relied on ancient local plans or structure plans (such as Cornwall of St Albans for example). Since the election that threat has receded in that many more plans are adopted or at pre-submission stage (the first stage at which you can make a decent first of a prematurity argument). So that now the housing target vacume scenario applies to only around a quarter of local planning authorities rather than half. But it is this quarter that have been most obstinate, most deliberately slow and most deliberately determined to push housing targets as low as possible. The other thing they have in common of course is being mostly conservative and having an average age of Councillor of around 70 who have already paid off their mortgage long ago and hence are so hardly a modal demographic of England.
But despite the potential vacume and the government push for increased housing they have little worry that housing targets will fall. Why? The National Planning Policy Framework of course. This requires in para. 47 to “boost significantly the supply of housing”. Note the wording, not completion, supply, one half only of the supply demand nexus. So it means boosting the supply side of housing, that is how much land is allocated for housing and how high the targets area. Before the NPPF a very small number of LPAs managed to convince inspectors that local demographic changes allowed a slight tweaking down of numbers than in RSS. None since the NPPF to the best of my knowledge and para. 47 implies upward only revisions to housing targets and cannot reasonably be interpreted in any other way. Certainly inspectors such as at Rushcliffe only this week are interpreting existing targets development plans as floor targets.
What about after revocation? Well even if RSS had never been adopted in the first place the evidence base behind them, and the sub-regional numbers for allocations, exist, as do many properly conducted SHMAs. Given the duty to cooperate and the requirement of the NPPF to meet objectively determined need, including potential need that cannot be met from other areas any LPA that is maintaining the now out-dated Spelman-Pickles doctrine that local targets mean lower targets is cruising for a bruising.
Of course LPAs have to vote at full council to submit a pl;an with realistic targets. But the use of the word ‘choice’ by him is illusionary. Their is no choice at all, national policy makes the setting of objective need is a technical not a political issue, if you don’t the choice will be made for you by an independent inspector (the changes will go back to the Council for a vote following the Localism Act but of course their is zero choice in the matter) and if you disagree with your neighbors inspectors as at Rushcliffe will take that as a near automatic signal that an LPA has failed to plan strategically across boundaries. So in reality its about as much ‘control’ as a prisoner has, the choice have already mean made and the sanctions ensure that sooner or later the decision with be forced. Pickles is making lpas take the decision locally but in reality Osborne is controlling it. Under muscular localism there is no degree of choice in the matter.
Of course there will be a minority of authorities that will try and confuse matters by not objectively assessing need. The practice of major developers is already to publish their own studies which as in several appeals in Stratford -on -Avon inspectors will be inclined to accept. This leaves smaller developers in the lurch a bit but here a planning consultant has to do is demonstrate that local non-objective targets are not realistic and then the NPPF will be entirely permissive.
Crunch time is approaching for many LPAs by virtue of the CIL deadline, even if delayed by a year, as in rumored, LPAs really need to be submitting around now realistic and NPPF compliant plans. Those that are not, even those with widespread Green Belts, will be in deep s##t as it will then be open season on garden grabbing and densification with adopted plan policies showing where the displaced housing will go.