Horsham Leaders Letter to Boles Confuses Several Issues

The Letter in full

You will recall our meeting with Francis Maude on 24th June. I argued then that Government housing policy has put Horsham District Council in the invidious position of having housing applications approved by Inspectors regardless of what it has locally assessed. You suggested that we should have a further meeting once you had been able to look at all the information and I hope that this can now be arranged.

I repeat the primary suggestion that Francis Maude and I made when we met you that Inspectors give much greater weight to emerging housing strategies. To this, I now add three further suggestions to ease the difficulties that central Government is causing to residents in the South East of England.

Since the Government came to power in May 2010, it has abolished the South East Plan (SEP) and introduced the National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF). Paragraph 14 of the NPPF states in essence that where a Local Authority’s development plan is considered to be out of date, planning permission must be granted.

The SEP housing target was developed in the period 2006 to 2008 when the number of new dwellings created annually was at a peak (in 2008 224,000 new dwellings were created in England). Following the Lehman collapse in 2008 and the onset of the recession, the number of new dwellings created has fallen to – in 2012 135,000 (DCLG Housing Statistics Release 25/04/13). Indeed in Horsham District, the predicted build out rates of two major developments declined from 610 dwellings per annum in 2007/08 to 268 in 2011/12. None of this collapse in new house building can be attributed to Local Authorities and, under the circumstances, it is difficult to see what else they could have done to alleviate the situation.

It has also become apparent that Local Authorities without a perceived five year housing land supply cannot win appeals against developers. Horsham District has approaching 8000 approved housing applications, yet is considered by Inspectors at appeals not to have a five year housing supply based on the premise that any houses not built in previous years must now be added to the next five years’ housing target rather than being phased over the 20 years of a local authority housing plan. This is contrary to any conception of Localism and creates a housing target which by any measure is totally unrealistic and simply impossible to meet.

The overall effect of the foregoing is that in districts which do not get special protection (eg they are not in an AONB) developers can build houses where they choose and not in the most sustainable areas where the local communities would like the houses to be built. Five years is far too short a period to be able to make a sensible and considered adjustment to the huge economic downturn we have experienced.

Effectively, Horsham District is being held to a housing target set in a plan developed during the loose money era which created a boom in UK house building and eventually a banking crisis. The panel report on Regional Spacial Strategy (RSS) for the SE of England contained on page 87 the extraordinary statement that, “it sees (housing) demand as almost limitless”. Despite the SEP saying that the assumptions underpinning the RSS would be monitored and lead to a review of the plan, this did not occur despite the onset of the most serious recession since the 1930s. Instead, although the SEP has supposedly been abolished, we have a situation where its central thrust of highly optimistic housing targets still remains and is being used by central Government appointed Inspectors to overrule decisions made by elected Local Authorities.

The argument from Government to all this simply appears to be that a Local Authority should publish its 20 year plan and get it adopted regardless of what happens through appeals that could strongly undermine the basis of that plan in the interim period. This comes at a time when there has been a constant stream of new legislation emanating from Whitehall making it even more difficult to follow the lengthy and bureaucratic plan making processes laid down by central Government.

In addition to the earlier suggestion of advising Planning Inspectors to give much greater weight to emerging plans in planning appeals, we ask for your consideration of the following additional actions:

1. Instruct Inspectors to place significantly less weight on five year housing land supply performance against targets set in the South East Plan and give more weight to other planning considerations e.g. sustainability of the location, effect on sensitive local landscape, etc;

Following a seismic change such as that which followed the Lehman collapse, allow Local Authorities to allocate their housing backlog over all the remaining plan period, not just a five year timescale;

Allow Local Authorities to develop housing needs targets and agree these with Planning Inspectors separately from the production of the overall District Plan. This would enable Local Authorities to set sensible housing targets related to present day conditions in a shorter timespan than that required to develop and get adoption of the full District Plan. It could also save Local Authorities time and effort in the event that the Planning Inspector disagreed with the housing target and rejected their plan.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Mr Dawe’s letter, dated August 23, was copied to Horsham MP Francis Maude, South Downs MP Nick Herbert, and Cabinet Members with responsibility for Planning in West Sussex.

Point by point

I repeat the primary suggestion that Francis Maude and I made when we met you that Inspectors give much greater weight to emerging housing strategies.

The government has now published in its Beta guidance guidance on prematurity, this largely repeats the extant guidance from ‘Planning system general principles’ and both suggest that plans prior to submission have some but limited weight.  If Horsham were successfully able to argue that development would be of such a scale to preempt the plan making process and that the draft plan had a high degree of conformity witn the NPPF they stood a strong chance on appeal.  Indeed Horsham have recently approved an application for 475 homes at Billinghurst at a site proposed in the draft local plan.

 Horsham District has approaching 8000 approved housing applications, yet is considered by Inspectors at appeals not to have a five year housing supply based on the premise that any houses not built in previous years must now be added to the next five years’ housing target rather than being phased over the 20 years of a local authority housing plan. This is contrary to any conception of Localism and creates a housing target which by any measure is totally unrealistic and simply impossible to meet.

The South East Plan issue is not relevant as once you have a plan in line with the NPPF this resets the clock and humbrs based on the start year for housing purposes.  The issue is solely one of objectively assessed need.  To plan for housing to meet a backlog over 20 years is to plan for people being in extreme housing need for 20 years.  The government at appeals has accepted the ‘Sedgefield’ principal that the backlog should be made up over 5 years.  If this is underliverable a plan can reasonably propose a long phasing but inspectors have consistently rejected the principle that this should be 15-20 years.  The target is not impossible to meet over 10 years, only if Horsham continues to reject additional strategic sites like a new Garden City.

Effectively, Horsham District is being held to a housing target set in a plan developed during the loose money era which created a boom in UK house building and eventually a banking crisis.

No it is not if Horsham has good new evidence of objectively assessed housing need then this will be based on the latest household projections, which roll forward the situation to cover the post 2007 depressed market conditions rather than simply the boom years of the 2008 based projections included in the now revoked SEP.  The SEP is a red herring.  Horsham continues to have high housing need.

Allow Local Authorities to develop housing needs targets and agree these with Planning Inspectors separately from the production of the overall District Plan. This would enable Local Authorities to set sensible housing targets related to present day conditions in a shorter timespan than that required to develop and get adoption of the full District Plan. It could also save Local Authorities time and effort in the event that the Planning Inspector disagreed with the housing target and rejected their plan.

If the Strategic Housing Market Assessment is run by an objective board and subject to consultation there is no reason why an LPA cannot request an advisory inspectors visit prior to finalizing and submitting the plan.  It is impossible to have these formally signed off in advance as without a full plan there is no way of knowing if the final target is deliverable within the LPA area or whether the DTC needs to be revoked.  Similarly the housing tatget would need, if this proposal had legs, to include any overspill from other lpas, a key issue in Horsham which may need to include urbanization effects from a second Gatwick runway.  Again without a full plan there is no way of knowing oif the target (including DTC overspill) is deliverable.

Horsham could have made a much better point which they didnt.  Where there are large areas numbers of permissions housebuilders can simply say they wont build then out and then rack up more and more consents in ever more remote and profitable village sites.  This is a disgrace.  These sites would be del;deliverable if cpod at existing use vale.  There is an easy solution to this, advertise for new developers to back to back a cpo, then the sites become viable, because the developers wont have bought them at too high a price and afraid to dispose of them as they prop up their balance sheets.  Then Horsham again has a five year supply (build outs within 5 years can be enforced through the back to back contract).

5 thoughts on “Horsham Leaders Letter to Boles Confuses Several Issues

  1. Interesting final paragraph, Andrew. Do you think that CPO at EUV then back-to-back contracts could be used to speed up delivery of unbuilt permissions generally?

  2. Pingback: Horsham Leaders Letter to Boles Confuses Several Issues | johncresswellplant

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