Castlepoint- Pickles on Prematurity and the Green Belt #NPPF

A slightly bizarre recovered appeal decision relating to a lack of a 5 year supply in Thundersley Essex.  One of the first to test Green Belt policy where there is lack of a 5 year supply post NPPF.  The SoS has been very willing to grant housing on numerous appeals post NPPF in this situation, even in AOMB, but this as far as I know is the first to test it for a Green Belt site.

This site has history, in 2011 Castlepoint withdrew their Core strategy after an inspector said it would be found unsound on grounds of lack of housing.  Castlepoint were furious.  They lobbied Pickles directly stating that this breached his pre-election promise that the Green Belt was ‘inviolate’.   They for a long while refused even to prepare a new plan simply withdrawing the submitted one.  This changed however following the NPPF and in December 2012 they agreed a 5 year housing target and some early release sites which they felt would  give them a 5 year supply.

Now lets look at the decision because its rather important.

On Green Belt purposes overall the Inspector and SoS considered the site would cause ‘moderate harm’ to Green Belt purposes.

national policy is very clear that amendments to the GB should be undertaken as part of the Local Plan process and that the Council, in this instance, are following the appropriate processes, albeit that he accords limited weight to the emerging Local Plan in this appeal case.

On plan progress

[the SoS] does not agree with the Inspector’s comment at IR339 that the current programme for adoption looks somewhat optimistic, especially in the light of the Council’s experience with the now aborted Core Strategy (CS). In the Secretary of State’s view, whilst the now withdrawn CS was in preparation, there were no real drivers to ensure that the Council pressed ahead. With the publication of the NPPF, he is more positive than the Inspector that the Council can achieve its’ programme for LP adoption, especially given the drivers within it. The Secretary of State does not disagree that, apart from its GB status, the present appeal site has no overriding constraints (IR340).

Although one might wonder for a Green Belt authority what those drivers and incentives are there appear to be none.

the Secretary of State has identified moderate harm in respect of urban sprawl, moderate harm in respect of the merging of neighbouring settlements, and moderate harm to the visual appearance of this part of the GB. The Secretary of State considers that together this represents a considerable level of harm. In accordance with the NPPF, the Secretary of State attaches substantial weight to this harm to the GB.

One might question the logic of additionality here – surely moderate harm to three Green Belt Purposes add up to moderate harm to the Green Belt overall not ‘considerable’ harm?

The key passage is as follows

the Secretary of State also observes that Council’s letter of 11 December 2012 to the Planning Inspectorate (document CP-ID1) indicates that in respect of the Catherine Road, Benfleet, 396 to 408 London Road, Benfleet, and Castle View School sites, work to make amendments to the GB boundary will be taken forward through the LP process. The Secretary of State has taken into account that the Council has acknowledged that there is a need to take land from the GB, even for the lower level of housing provision that it currently proposes (IR360). However he also gives weight to the Council’s case that those ‘strategic sites’ agreed to by the Council in December 2012 that are in the GB were preferred to the appeal site for sound planning reasons (IR91) and he considers that this diminishes the weight that can be attached to the acknowledged need to take land from the GB as a factor in favour of allowing this appeal….

wishes to emphasise that national policy is very clear that GB reviews should be undertaken as part of the Local Plan process. In light of all material considerations in this case the Secretary of State is concerned that a decision to allow this appeal for housing in the GB risks setting an undesirable precedent for similar developments which would seriously undermine national GB policy.

Of course Pickles pre NPPF was JRd on a number of sites for applying a prematurity rule – in favour of local plan reviews- stringer than in national policy.

On a number of appeals subsequently the SoS has refused to give prematurity any weight.

In another Essexd case at Harlow the SoS agreed with an inspector who said

Waiting for the emergence of the LP would not accord with national policy.

However this was a special case because for Green Belt national policy is very clear that Green Belt boundaries should only be changed through plan reviews.

The decision letter makes it clear that had it not been Green Belt it would have been approved.  Also for Green Belt you have to consider alternative sites, and though not yet in a local plan the LPA had indicated that they would be favorable to such sites.  Perhaps Castlepoint did just enough through publishing this list, if they had not done then the SoS would have been left in a very difficult position as a refusal could have given the signal that it is acceptable for Green Belt authorities to drag their heels on plans forever.

So overall a correct decision and no inconsitency in thsi case from Pickles.

However Pickles may have placed excessive hope on Catselpoints cllrs ability to produce a sound plan.  From the Canvey Green Belt Campaign

The tone of the Mainland Councillors meeting with the Officers appears to demonstrate that they are prepared to again dig their heels in against committing to Green Belt development in their own wards.

So I guess the developers will simply bide their time wait six months for members to committ hari kiri over their draft revised plan and appeal again with every sign of success.  I guess the cllrs will in that case simply blame Pickles but of course the residents will only have the cllrs to blame.

Two points of note for policy wonks.  Firstly like in a number of recent appeals the Inspector based the 5 year supply on the RSS.  He had nothing else to go on.  Secondly in terms of a ‘backlog’ of need (as opposed to the+20%) he adopted the ‘Sedgefield method’ and spread this over the 5 years rather than a longer period.

As the appellents stated and the Inspector and SoS accepted

the residual method does not fully reflect the urgency of the need to catch up with the backlog. Their preference would be to adopt the so-called ‘Sedgefield’ method, in which the catching-up is required to be completed in the first five years. This approach has been accepted in recent appeal decisions at Honeybourne (in Wychavon DC) and Shottery (Stratfordon-Avon DC)

What National Planning Policy Should Say on Shale Gas

1) If It is backed it should be only as a short term stop gap to compensate for the decline in North Sea Gas Production and until Carbon Neutral Solutions are developed over the next 20 years.  Gas has a lower carbon output that electricity from coal but this only makes sense if their is sufficient generating capacity from gas power stations during a transition period, not during a period when its substitutes for renewables.  Likely this requires most coal and a lot of shale gas staying in the ground.

-This is also the position of the US Energy Secretary.  I don’t say this position is correct but it is the only intellectually coherent position if you back CO2 reduction targets.

2) To minimise visual impact the policy should encourage minimising the number of ‘sweet spot’ wellheads with lateral drilling.

-In the US the deposits are very think vertically requiring large numbers of wells over a large area.  In the UK the deposits are much thicker so in theory (at least according to the CBI) around 100-200 well heads could serve the country, providing you drill at the precise ‘sweet spot’.  However it takes 19-20 test drillings to hit this.  In the permissive US system there is no incentive to use the best technology of lateral drilling from a single sweet spot.  This can be rectified here.

The best system would be to auction 100-200 wellhead licenses nationally with 20 year concessions.  Then allow temporary consents of say 3 years to allow the ‘sweet spot’ to be found.  Such short term planning consents would not contribute to the national auction system.

The few the number of well heads the less the environmental and visual concerns.  I doubt the UK would tolerate 10s of thousands of well heads but a few hundred will be inconsequential.  The main concerns of groups such as Green Peace is the threats from thousands of drill heads.  Proper incentives can minimise this risk.

This is not to defend fracking, but it shows how well conceived regulation can both maximise economic benefits and minimse environmental impacts if a technology is adopted.

This piece I understand needs to be much longer and full of references.  But I think there is already enough evidence on fracking internationally for MPAs to start drafting sensible policies in their minerals plans.

Countryside campaign groups could do a great service by commissioning specialist research on the premise that if fracking is to go ahead what would be the best policy regime to minimise that impact.

Lets be clear Land Hoarding is Different from Land Banking

Land Banking is maintaining a sufficient stock of optioned or consented sites to maintain the maximum possible flow of completed units at a realistic rate of return.

Land Hoarding is maintaining a stock of sites over and above the level necessary to maintain the  maximum possible flow of completed units at a realistic rate of return, if the land was sold at a market clearing price.

Land Banking is a necessary and acceptable practice.  Arguably at the peak of the market as the OFT noted there was not enough of it. Land hoarding is not, it usually represents where a land owner has paid too much for a site and is afraid to write the site off its balance sheets as it is maintained as collateral with banks.

Contrary to Peter Stacey of Turley, householders are in the business of making money from land not so much housing, they are not continental like constriction only firms.  They make their money from gaining planning consent, the gift of the community. The problem is simple, housebuilder bought sites at excessive ponzi values before the onset of the great recession.  Which is why without any distinction between stock and flow, between genuine and false reasons for holding a stock and without any theory or economic analysis he can claim, despite all of the evidence, including 25% of all sites in London having no intention to develop by the landowner, that there is no problem.

See here for the proposed solution in Dublin  here is the detailed report on their proposed vacant land tax and the powerpoint.

Such taxes have been highly successful in the states, for example for example, Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, has a land vale tax. Between 1980 and 1995, that tax helped reduce the number of vacant centre structures from 4,200 to fewer than 500, increasing the population by 10%.[1]

[1] Ronan Lyons, for Smart Taxes Network, Residential Site Value Tax in Ireland, 2011

Patronising Boles Suffers Heckling at CPRE AGM


The row broke out as Mr Boles, who has aggressively been trying to increase the number of new homes built across England, addressed the annual meeting of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which has fought the Government’s decision to relax planning rules.

He took issue with a report in The Daily Telegraph last year which – quoting Local Government Assocation figures – showed that there were over 400,000 plots with planning permission in England.

Mr Boles said: “There are only 120,000 units worth of land in ‘land banks’ with planning permission where building is not happening. That is half of what we need to build every single year.”

Mr Boles told one CPRE member that “it is no good shaking your head”, but others shouted at him that the figures were “untrue” and he was being“so simplistic”. One shouted from the back: “It’s about time you listened to other people.”

The heckling is thought to be the first time that Mr Boles has publicly had to face the anger caused in communities across England over the Government’s decision to rewrite the planning rule book with a bias in favour of sustainable development.

There was more anger among the CPRE members when Mr Boles said he wished England was more like Germany, where property prices are low because more land is released for building.

Banging the lectern, Mr Boles said: “Look at Germany where real house prices have been constant for 30 years, where houses have got bigger, better designed, more beautiful, more eco-friendly.

“Why? Because they release enough land, to build enough houses, to meet demand. Nobody is doing what we crazily do which is put all of our income into houses, bank our whole retirement into the value of our house – it is completely nuts.”

This prompted more heckles from the CPRE members, and two walked out. Outside the first member, who declined to be named, said: “He is not listening.”

The second CPRE member, Richard Nicholls from Dorset, added: “The man does not understand what planning is about. The man is a fool.”

In his speech Mr Boles had told the CPRE that blocking new housing developments was slowly condemning rural villages to be “museum exhibits, not so much protected as embalmed”.

He said: “How do we protect rural England – not I am sure by paralysing the rural economy and squeezing the life out of village communities.

“Yet in many parts of the country this is what has been happening. In Devon, Cornwall, Shropshire, Sussex, the Cotwolds and the Yorkshire Dales some villages are inches away from becoming forever fossilised.

The homes were so highly prized that local people “could not afford even the tiniest cottage”.

Villages in these areas were beautiful certainly but “somehow sanitised, with all the stone walls recently re-pointed and the most humble of doors recently repainted in the greys and greens from Farrow and Ball: perfectly preserved but strangely lifeless.

“What these villages need is some noise, bustle, young blood, teenagers kicking a ball around after school, teenagers sitting on a wall nervously flirting, young mothers and fathers reaching for a pint in the local after an hour digging the vegetable patch or doing the ironing.”

If people were not around to mend the church roof then “it isn’t a community it’s a museum exhibit, not so much protected as embalmed”.

In an earlier speech to builders Mr Boles said that allowing large scale poorly designed housing developments near existing communities can damage house prices.

In remarks to the National House Building Council, he said badly designed new homes “undermined” property prices. He said: “If you design better places, if you design more beautiful buildings, communities will release land for development.”

People would not “object quite so fiercely if they think that the thing that is going to come down the end of their road is something that might actually add to their house value not undermine it”.

Speaking at the CPRE meeting, the organisation’s chairman Sir Andrew Motion branded Mr Boles as “Boles the Builder”.

Sir Andrew said: “He leapfrogs brownfield sites and lands with a bricky crunch in the open countryside.He speaks up for green field housing estates rather than the green fields themselves.”

Sir Andrew added that “the reasons to speak up for the green belt have become more and more urgent” as councils come under pressure to provide more land for building.

[blob] People will not be able to use the Government’s help to buy mortgage guarantee scheme to buy second homes, the Treasury said.

Borrowers will be forced to make an explicit declaration that they have no financial interest in another property.

In the speech – the issued version not mentioning landbanking or Germany, Boles almost entirely focused on affordable housing in villages, which CPRE are in favour of.  It was like turning up to a WI conference and lecturing them on how they shoudl adopt better jam making techniques – patronising in the extreme.

Where does Boles get his landbanking figures from – he he updated figures from the OFT report since the recession?  Perhaps an FOI is in order.  Given the stats show that The average time taken to complete a private development has risen from 20 months in 2007-08 to 25 months in 2011-12. In London it is 30 months, its uggests that the a crack down on land abnking could increasde completions by a fifth to a third, in London Boris Johnson has stated that  showed that 45 per cent of all land with planning permission in London was held by actors who had no intention of building on it.