Brighton – When a Plan Cannot Meet All of its Housing Need – But Can Provide More

Brighton is an interesting case.  A very good plan but strongly constrained by the political imperative imposed by the controlling Greens to prevent the loss of any greenfield sites other than the relatively visually contained Toads Hole Valley site.  The background of course is the West Sussex Coast SHMA which says that there will be around 14,000 shortfall from this area which will need to be met in adjoining districts and the newly designated South Downs National Park which fringes and partially falls within Brighton.  The principles set here will also guide districts like Arun in terms of deciding how much they should provide locally on less than ideal sites on the fringes of urban areas and how much should be ‘overspill’ north of the South Downs.  See my Dads Army Land post. 

The inpector’s letter.

On the DTC

I accept that the Council has sought to engage positively with neighbouring authorities in the region. My initial conclusion is that it has met the legal requirement under S.33A of the Act. Unfortunately, the cooperation with neighbouring Councils has not led to a positive outcome, in the sense that none has offered to assist Brighton and Hove by offering.

So the plan is legal, however unlike Hastings the Inspector did not conclude that the authority had done everything it could within the National Constraints set by the NPPF and therefore WAS NOT in a position to set an overall housing target and implied overspill to other authorities.

The Plan proposes a target for the provision of new housing of 11,300. This represents only 56.5% of the full objectively assessed need….

I recognise that there are significant constraints to providing land for development, and that there are competing priorities for any land which may be available. However, given the significant shortfall in meeting housing needs, it is important that the Council rigorously assesses all opportunities to meet that need. 

The main source being Urban Fringe sites.

These sites are not subject to nationally recognised designations, which would indicate that development may be restricted. Whilst it may be the Council’s aspiration to designate some of these sites as Local Green Space, this is not being pursued through Part 1 of the Local Plan and I have doubts as to whether some of these areas would meet the requirements of paragraph 77 of the Framework. In my letter of 22 July 2013, I commented that the analysis of the urban fringe sites “identifies perceived constraints, but includes no analysis of whether such constraints could be satisfactorily overcome, and what the residual adverse impacts of developing some of the less constrained sites would be”.

I only partially agree with the Inspector here in that some of these sites affect the setting of the South Downs National Park.  I refer to the well known quote from Abercrombie who said (with ref to the North Downs) that there would be no point declaring nationally protected areas if you had urbanisation right up to their edges.  B&H should really challenge the inspector here.

The site at Toads Hole Valley, which is proposed for development, suffers from some of the same constraints that are said to affect other sites, including its proximity to the National Park. However, the more positive approach taken towards development on this site contrasts with the negative approach taken to other sites. The overall impression given is that the starting point for analysis of these sites has been the desire to resist development, which is at odds with the Framework’s requirement that the plan should be positively prepared. The Sustainability Appraisal (SA) makes general observations that the higher housing targets tested would result in significant losses of employment land and open space, but without a more detailed analysis of the sites concerned, I do not consider that great weight can be placed on the conclusions of the SA.

The only real way forward for B&H is to commission a rigorously independent landscape sensitivity appraisal accompansied by an urban design appraisal to find ways in which it might be possible to mitigate and reduce any harm and provide other planning benefits such as new public open space.

On the hoary Liverpool/Sedgefield method argument  the Inspector concludes.

The Framework is not prescriptive about the method that should be used to determine the five-year supply of land for housing. However, a method of calculation that suppresses housing land supply in the early years of the plan period does not, in my view, accord with the Framework’s general intent to boost significantly the supply of new housing. Such an approach could be justified if essential infrastructure requirements are likely to constrain the delivery of new development, but I am not persuaded that the impact of the economic recession is a valid reason for taking this approach.

I found the inspectors logic here very confused.

The most common method of calculating a five-year land supply is to use the annualised housing requirement derived from the overall target. I note the Council’s approach is to base its calculations on the housing trajectory, which has the effect of reducing the five-year land supply requirements in the early
years of the Plan.

Err no the trajectory based/residual method has been the most common approach for over 20 years.  In most cases however plans are out of date or have no phasing so you used annualised rates in default.  the issue is not wither you use a residual approach, you always use a residual approach calculated from a trajectory the issue irsnot is whether the plan phasing which sets the trajectory should be front loaded, end loaded or even.  A matter which the NPPF leaves open, however in all cases inspectors have to balance the often conflicting NPPF ‘boost’ and ‘deliverability’ objectives.  the former may point to frontloading, the latter to endloading.

The City Plan Part 1 falls well short of meeting the objectively assessed need for new housing, and although I note the Council’s continuing commitment to engage with neighbouring authorities, there is no evidence before me to show that any of the unmet need will be met elsewhere. For the reasons given above I am not persuaded that the City Plan Part 1 meets the requirements of paragraph 14 of the Framework which requires local planning authorities to meet objectively assessed needs, unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole.

I am confused by what, if anything, the inspector is concluding here.  Is the highlighted text a ‘Stevenage’ conclusion that a strategy relying on a recipient authority which is unwilling is underliverable, which was pre Duty to Cooperate and now generally considered to be out of date, or is it a ‘Hastings’ decision that you can undershoot on need if you meet the NPPF and the implications of that in terms of meeting unmet need and the DTC falls on another inspector?    I think the latter, but the letter is vaguely worded and leaves the matter open.  I note the same inspector is the inspector at Rother who overnight found its housing target doubled after the Hastings decision.  I detect more than a slight dislike of shuting around housing numbers in her decision at B&H.

I not also the Inspector asks B&H to reconsider its policy on sustainable homes in light of a viability report and the ‘proposed changes to the building regs’ (no no final decision on CSH etc. has been decided).  The local greens will like that.

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