Islington – Planning Policy to be Used to Clamp Down on ‘Buy to Leave’

Guardian

If any one has the report link ill post.  The BPF doesnt get it – S106 runs with the land.

Thought if there is a klnown rate of ‘buy to lave’ should this not add to obejctively assessed need, like second home?

“Buy-to-leave” investors could be fined up to £60,000 in an assault on empty housing being considered by a London council.

The charge on the growing phenomenon of vacant homes in high-value areas, exemplified this year by the scandal of empty mansions on the Bishop’s Avenue in north London, has been proposed by Islington council. Close to 300 of homes built in the area since 2008 still have no one on the electoral roll, which the council says may mean they are vacant.

Owners would be obliged to ensure properties are occupied “regularly throughout the year” or face a charge as high as £60,000, a discussion paper set before the council last week suggests. On request, owners would be expected to supply evidence such as utility bills to prove someone lives there. The fines would help fund affordable housing elsewhere and would be written into planning agreements.

The move represents an escalation in efforts to stop those investors content to enjoy house price rises in London in excess of 10% a year without occupying or renting out homes. Councils are able to charge an extra 50% on a council tax bill only if a home is empty for two years – little more than £1,000 even for large homes.

“We want to use planning policy to end the scandal of new homes being wasted in this way,” said James Murray, executive member for housing and development. “The criticism of ‘buy-to-leave’ is straightforward: it is wrong when new homes fail to house people. Londoners’ need for somewhere to live should come ahead of global financial investments. It is clear that timidity in the face of an unbridled market will fail.”

The property industry immediately said the plan did not “add up”. “Will it only apply to the first sales of a development, or to subsequent sales, which are clearly totally outside the control of the developer, as well?” said Ian Fletcher, policy director at the British Property Federation. “How will the council stop developers just increasing the price of the units in line with the fee charged? As there are already tools in place for councils to deal with empty homes, we would suggest Islington council’s efforts would be better spent focusing on their efforts on initiatives that will boost development, rather than make it more difficult.”

Islington’s move reflects growing concern at the practice of “buy to leave” and last week’s budget, the chancellor, George Osborne, said anyone buying a property worth more than £500,000 through a company would be required to pay 15% stamp duty unless the property was rented out. The move was aimed at stopping wealthy speculators and investors buying up housing and leaving it empty.

Islington analysed electoral roll data for half a dozen new apartment buildings constructed since 2008 and found that, of the 587 dwellings, a third had no registered voter living in them or were marked as empty. For the Orchard Building, a block of 45 flats, 23 fell into that category.

The proposed fines were welcomed by Empty Homes, a campaigning charity. “It’s an innovative idea and the principle is exactly right,” said David Ireland, chief executive. “It is wrong that we have a huge need for housing in London and quite a lot of what is built is not being lived in. This won’t be in the interests of some developers but it will be in the interests of Londoners.”

Advertisements

Helicopter City

I find Sharjah where i’m now living a fascinating City.  You might not have heard of it but it’s the third largest city in the UAE after Dubai and Abu Dhabi, about half the size of those at around 900,000 population.  It is a more conservative place than either but is not dull and austere like one Gulf country I could mention, rather it is a buzzing metropolitan place much like the centre of any western or asian city with a high population density at its core.  If you want certain comforts you can get in England then go 15 minutes up the coast either east or west no big deal.

What surprised me , It is more densely populated, much more, than Dubai.  Dubai is not really one city it is 2, 3, 4, 5+more being added every day strung out along its ever lengthening freeway network, islands of gleaming towers, which are really separate and widely strewn cities, and an ‘historic core’ around Dubai Creek.  Dubai has its however but they are much less densely occupied than Sharjah where its often densely shared flats house those working in Dubai.  This leads to in Sharjah’s large (though not large enough) urban core shops and restaurants on almost every spare building frontage.

Sharjah though is definitely a single city, a harbour city constrained to its east and west and like most Harbour cities they shoot upwards.  It also has lots of towers along its waterfront corniche roads, which Dubai, unusually amongst major Gulf Cities, simply does not have as its waterfront was swiftly taken up by resorts, docks and expensive villas.

Transport is ‘interesting’ .  It is the most easy place in the world to get a taxi.  I have never waited more than 15 seconds.  Amazing.  The problem is that you often have to get into two or three as the drivers say they are new and they don’t know where Dubai or Rolla (the old city centre of Sharjah) is.  Once wonders how they make a living, it would be like a cabby in the City not knowing how to drive to Westminster.

One thing that Sharjah has way more of than Dubai is helicopter pads on the roof.  They exist in Dubai but are rare.  There are several reasons for this.  Plots in Sharjah are rectangular and small often developed high rise from ‘upzoning’ like in Vancouver say, which results in small square and narrow building forms which tend to have flat roofs.  Dubai is the land of megaprojects, bigger plots and architects who love spires and the famous ‘zoo’ of strange geometries.

More important though is the traffic congestion.  Before the crash of 2008 you could be stuck in the traffic driving in the morning to Dubai 15km away for 3 hours.  People used to drive at 4am in the  morning and sleep in their car at work.  Now it has eased slightly, there is a toll gate and lots of expensive grade separation, even lost of double decker bus on it, but fundamentally the Al Wadr road to Dubai suffers from too many original bad design decisions confusing local and strategic through traffic, it can never fully be fixed and the more you try without major new public transport links the more trips you induce.  The sea and Dubai airport, combined with political choices to limit cross border roads or even build them and not join them up, channel most traffic onto this one corridor.  It is a sight to be seen at what I call ‘check point charlie’ at Saharah Mall in the evenings where to avoid the 20 dinar Salik toll on taxi journeys people jump out of Sharjah Taxis and into Dubai taxis across a dusty no mans land (or vice versa) so you see an army of phillipino shop workers and Russian hookers all fighting for cabs – bizarre.  It could cause a border war (dont tell Putin) -(within living memory there were several border wars between the Emirates, dozens died, now it more by proxy with Dubai keeping 100s of millions of dollars from Salik charges on Sharjah residents).

So a fad developed for buildings with helicopter pads.  Seriously it was though of as a potential answer to transport problems.  One things of the fantasy cityscapes of 1960s planning full of helicopters flying over the plebs below.   But I have never seen one of these pads used, and there are hundreds of them, I counted over 15 within 200m of one building.  Some seem very dangerously placed in relation to other buildings.  Towers however often have big penthouses just below the pad, but real estate here is not that expensive, if I had twice my salary I could almost afford one, but I certainly could never afford a helicopter with 10 times my salary.  But the pads may certainly come in handy one day – pizza delivery by personal drone anyone?  Now that proposal I was going to send by Courier?

 

‘Hello your Royal Highness i’m the Cotswold, DC enforcement officer..that pigsty in the back’

Observer

Prince Charles is facing a Westminster campaign to strip him and his estate of special privileges including tax exemptions, a power of veto over new laws and immunity from legislation covering everything from squatting to planning.

A radical bill is to be put before the House of Lords proposing to remove special treatment of the prince and the Duchy of Cornwall, his inherited £800m estate that provides him with a £19m a year private income.

The move, by the old-Etonian Labour peer Lord Berkeley, also exposes little-known exemptions from laws enforced on everyone else by at least eight acts of parliament.

In his capacity as the Duke of Cornwall, the prince cannot be prosecuted for breaches of planning laws such as building without permission or breaking the terms of planning consents, which would normally attract fines of up to £50,000.

Reddich and Bromsgrove may be forced to conduct wider Green Belt review

Thanks to Prof Alister Scott for the news link, of course Reddich is a classic ‘right to expand’ case vis a vis Bromsgrove.  Rather naively the local ”save the green belt” groups are welcoming any sign that the council’s have got the numbers slightly not quite cooked to recipe, have they any idea of what is about to hit them?   Will have implications also for the Stratford on Avon plan which tightly bounds on the Eastern and Southern side.  Their leader I believe lives slap bang on the border here.

Reddich Standard

MORE of the borough could be concreted over after serious concerns were raised about the number of homes planned for the future.

An inspector has ordered Redditch Borough and Bromsgrove District Councils to urgently respond to a letter questioning the evidence used to decide how many properties will be built in both areas before 2030.

It comes after councils in the south of the county were forced to re-examine the South Worcestershire Development Plan, which could result in them adding thousands more homes to their original plans.

As the Standard reported this month, Redditch and Bromsgrove finally submitted their plans after a three-month delay so they could look again at their evidence, some of which was the same as that used in the SWDP.

But unlike in the south, they decided to keep the same numbers – a total of 6,400 homes for Redditch, 3,000 of which will be built over the border in Bromsgrove, and a further 7,000 for Bromsgrove.

If they are forced to resubmit the plans, it could mean both councils are asked to find extra land to site more homes, despite councillors and officers having previously raised concerns there is no space within Redditch for new development.

In the letter, sent on Wednesday (March 26), inspector Michael Hetherington said although he was at ‘an early stage’ in his preparatory work, he had identified a matter which potentially involved a ‘serious soundness concern’.

“It is unclear from the draft report how the updated evidence has affected the councils’ consideration of the objectively assessed housing needs within their respective areas.”

He has asked for urgent consideration and a written response to his statement, adding a meeting could be called to discuss the issue before the main hearings associated with approving the plans.

David Rose, chairman of Webheath Action Group, said: “There have been flaws before in the process that we have highlighted to the chief exec. It is not a great surprise the inspector has found flaws also.”

Robert McColl from Save Our Green added: “Many people in Winyates Green and Mappleborough Green have questioned the soundness of the plan, they weren’t surprised when the figures were actually questioned but were surprised when the plans were submitted with the same figures.

“The inspector clearly has serious concerns about this and we would welcome the council taking the opportunity to review the figures again.”

Ruth Bamford, the council’s head of planning and regeneration, said: “The inspector has asked us to clarify the evidence used to decide the overall numbers in the plan, and we will provide that clarification.

 

National Trust – ‘villages traumatised’ over #NPPF

Telegraph

The great and the good who run the National Trust, the organisation in charge of protecting the country’s finest buildings and landscapes, are not meant to get cross. But Sir Simon Jenkins is furious and — it seems — has been for a large part of his six years as chairman.

The reason for Sir Simon’s wrath is planning regulations and specifically the Coalition’s decision to rewrite them for England in the midst of the recession with a new bias in favour of “sustainable development”.

The Trust, and readers of The Telegraph through its Hands Off Our Land campaign, vigorously opposed the changes amid fears that they would give the whip hand to builders. And, two years after they were introduced, these concerns appear to have been borne out.

Sir Simon, who works unpaid for the Trust for one and a half days a week, probably sees more of England on a regular basis than politicians as he criss-crosses the country visiting the Trust’s 568 properties, sites and monuments spread across 635,000 acres, or 1.5 per cent of the total land mass of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A recent trip to the Thames Valley, the Cotswolds and the Severn Valley, showed planning “is the sole subject of conversation”. “You go to Shrivenham, Tetbury, Buckingham, Stow-on-the-Wold, go up the Severn Valley, go to the Cotswolds; all these places — many of them in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty — are at war,” he says.“People are seriously angry. They feel that the Government has betrayed something they love and they feel confident that what they love is loved by most English people and the evidence supports that view. And there is no necessity for this massive development. The idea that we need 250,000 new homes and therefore they must be in the countryside is a daft statement.”

This week’s meeting of the Trust’s ruling council, which he attended, was again dominated by planning concerns.

Protections for the green belt around towns and cities to control sprawl, trumpeted by the Prime Minister and others when the reforms were laid out, are proving to be virtually worthless.

“We shouldn’t have to fight for the green belt in 2014. At the present moment 150,000 applications are in for the green belt. This should be absolutely inconceivable,” he says. “The green belt is no longer sacrosanct — that is the fact. A sensible planning regime would consider how you would best protect greenfield land around the cities.

“At the moment there is absolutely no trust that the Government is serious about protecting the green belt.” Villages are left “traumatised” by councils which are “fighting, fighting, fighting with local communities” to push through large-scale developments as they try to meet the new five-year housing targets required under the planning changes.

Sir Simon is himself traumatised by what he finds on his regular tours across England. “You have got to go to Sicily to find some of the planning decisions now being taken in Britain,” he says.

His big complaint is that the Government has swallowed developers’ arguments that they should be allowed to build on greenfield areas instead of the scorched brown earth left by former industrial sites in towns and cities.

He says: “You can drive through the West Midlands, north of Manchester, South Yorkshire. You see acre upon acre upon acre of brownfield sites undeveloped — while the developers are pressing endlessly to build in the countryside outside. It is stupid.”

The real tragedy is that allowing builders to develop pristine greenfield land around towns and cities means some urban areas are “left to die”, as has happened in Detroit, the once-mighty home of America’s motor car industry. Sir Simon says: “These mill towns of the north, which I still think many of them are very attractive places, require a lot of public investment, jobs and other development. But they are the sane places for people to live.

“It doesn’t make sense to put people in the Durham, Cheshire and Lancashire countryside, and simply leaving these cities to die. It happened in America and is giving America huge problems — we are creating Detroits in the north while we are eating up the countryside.

“Travel down the Don Valley in South Yorkshire. You just travel for mile upon mile of unused, brownfield, infrastructures land. Everything is there. The schools are there, the hospitals are there — the people are there. What do you do? You build housing estates in the Peak District. I can’t believe it. I think it is extraordinary.”

There is more than enough space in towns and cities to meet future housing demand, he says, because urban “density” in the UK’s cities is far lower than on the Continent. “The housing problems of Britain will not be solved in the countryside. That is my real message. The housing problems will be solved in the cities and there is absolutely nothing that this Government has done that promotes urban renewal.

“The density of cities is ridiculously low given the density of the British population is ridiculously low. London is a third of the density of Paris. Your average French settlement is seven storeys not three storeys.”

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) “was written by developers”, many of whom are large donors to the Conservative party. This was like putting the poachers in charge of the prison,” he says.

“The housebuilders are a very powerful lobby. Many of them support the Conservative party. I have got no problem about this — it has always been thus. But I have never known a Government so susceptible to that particularly form of lobbying.”

Sir Simon blames Nick Boles, the planning minister who took over after the NPPF was largely set in stone, for making matters worse. Mr Boles’s “aesthetic sense” is “non-existent” and he has no idea of how to protect the countryside, says Sir Simon. “Nick Boles’s form of planning is simply a fight everywhere, I don’t think he has any vision of what a protected countryside looks like.”

Hostility toward Mr Boles in the countryside is so great that the minister is now costing votes as traditional Conservatives switch to Ukip, which is now fighting the planning reforms.

“[Ukip leader] Nigel Farage regards Nick Boles as one of his best weapons. Where I have gone in my work in the National Trust, and where the ‘rule of Boles’, has applied, there ain’t many Tory voters left.”

He wonders aloud why the Trust was not given a greater say over the reforms: “There are so many things we could have done if we had been consulted. We had a complete raft of things we could have done. No interest shown at all.

“[Chancellor] George Osborne and Nick Boles wanted to do what the developers wanted and they thought that developers were jobs and growth — it was as naive as that. We are still picking up the pieces.” Sir Simon says the tax system could be altered to redress the balance and encourage developers to build on brownfield sites. He questions why builders have to pay 20 per cent VAT when they convert factories into flats, but newbuild sites are VAT-free. He says: “I am absolutely in no doubt that developed Britain could house all the new people apparently needing housing quite easily if the tax breaks, the planning and the will was there. There is no need to build on the countryside.”

Sir Simon also wants to bring back the rates system to replace council tax. “Personally I would go back to the rates and tax people by the amount of land and housing they are using, which I think is fair.” Sir Simon — who has long campaigned for planners to classify and grade rural land according to its worth — wants the NPPF to be redrawn to write in protections of rural views from wind farms and other rural monstrosities. Greater protections for countryside views “should be a part of the planning guidance. I honestly don’t think it was written by anybody who looks at a landscaped view.

“I read that document [the NPPF] through and I thought ‘did these people just go on holiday in Italy. Did they ever look at the English countryside? There was simply no sense of the aesthetic pleasure that people take from looking at views in the country.”

Sir Simon, 70, who stands down as chairman in October, has no regrets about fighting his war on planning on behalf of the Trust but clearly frets that his battle may have been vain. “Planning to me was core to our mission. We just had to say something about that because it was just such a real threat to everything. The Government would apparently be happy if all the villages of south-east England joined up.

He says that he “genuinely does not think the British people want that”, and points out: “They have not been asked.”

A Cold Wet Drizzly Day – in Dubai!

The taxi driver was perplexed – he had lived here for 17 years.  Some years it did not rain at all.  Other years for one days or so and then usually only for a few heavy minutes – and at the height of ‘winter’ in Jan or Feb, not the end of March, which would normally have been racing ever upwards to the 35 plus degrees seen in April, instead the days have been either pleasantly cool (mostly) or even in the evenings slightly chilly.

This year has seen rain, often heavy, on 6 days, and slow drizzle and spits and spats (very unusual in the gulf)  on quite a few few occasions more.  Overcast skys are common.  Yesterday it rained all day and was quite chilly, was almost like London.

Parts of low lying areas have become marshy.  By the coast in Ajman the seafront is flooded, and with its seafront stalls, pier, sad british pub on the beach, and donkey (sorry Camel) reminds me nowhere as much as Worthing on a soggy June day.

Reports say birds never seen before are wintering along parts of the coast in the wettest winter on record.  Of course ‘wet’ here s relative, its dryer than Cambridgeshire in Winter by a long shot but I have frequently seen people out with brollies, that must before have been the slowest moving item in a mall in the desert.

Gloucestershire Summit provides Some (Small) Clarity on Green Belt Review Issue

Gloucstersshire Echoe – confirms that a plan can be found unsound if doesnt meet housing need – even in Green Belt – and that the wording ‘environmental constraint’ in the gold guidance should not be read out fo con txt with the NPPF as a hole (happy 2nd birthday by the way you horribly ugly toddler).   Also confirms what we already knew, if an LPA wants to delete Green Belt and has the evidence it can.  What we don’t yet have clarity on is what happens when an LPA doesnt not want to, or changes its mind ()as it might given recent M, and the inspector knowing that will make a plan unsound on housing grounds, should recommend.  Given the recent instructions (published and unpublished) to PINS it would seem that inspectors, contrary to post Stafford/Litchfield practice, jump straight to unsound, without mentioning the banned word ‘strategic Green Belt Review’ LPAs simply have to work that out for themselves.  That would be a very difficult position because plans and inspectors reports are required by the regulations to be based on evidence, and that would produce an unsoundness finding based on lack of evidence that the inspector has not asked for.  That would lead to a clear testing of the legality of the inspectors findings in the courts.

Representatives from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) met with the chief executives, leaders, officers and councillors from Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Gloucester councils for a summit meeting yesterday with the region’s MPs also invited.

The aim was to clarify whether or not guidance issued by the Planning Minister Nick Boles earlier this month means no homes should be built on green belt land.

The three councils are working on a development plan, called the joint core strategy (JCS), that sets out where 33,449 homes will be built between 2011 and 2031 – more than half of them on green belt land.

And following yesterday’s meeting the councils are convinced their approach is the right one after they were told they can make wholesale changes to green belt boundaries to make way for housing.

Andrew North, Cheltenham Borough Council’s chief executive and chair of the housing plan programme board, explained: “The message from DCLG was clear – the professional advice and evidence which has gone into the Joint Core Strategy so far remains relevant and valid.

“We were informed that the guidance must be read in its full context and alongside the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), and therefore it remains up to local councils to decide whether to use the plan-making process to change green belt boundaries, where this is justified.

“Indeed, when asked about the extent of green belt changes that would be considered acceptable, the response was that the redrawing of the green belt is not limited and fundamental changes can be made provided it’s necessary.

“It was also stressed that councils have an obligation to meet the objectively-assessed housing need for their area in order for plans to be considered sound. Emphasis was also placed by DCLG on the importance of the duty to cooperate.

“Now that clarity has been provided, we will look to move forward with the plan.”

Laurence Robertson, Tewkesbury MP, outlined his belief earlier this month that the guidance from Mr Boles could mean the end for the JCS.

He was unable to attend yesterday’s meeting due to a prior engagement but speaking on his behalf, his assistant Mark Calway said he disagreed with a number of the points made by Mr North.

He still believes the councils are wrong in their belief that building on green belt in this instance is acceptable.

“The councils are going hell for leather regardless of what the intention of the minister is,” he said.

“It is rather sad. There is a certain arrogance among the JCS that they know best and nobody else is right.”

He added: “DCLG did say that the council is entitled to amend the green belt but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be accepted.

“They would have to prove that there are no other options. There are other options.”

Read more: http://www.gloucestershireecho.co.uk/Government-planning-experts-pave-way-building/story-20841947-detail/story.html#ixzz2x2S3j4KB

CPRE -‘Villages under Seige’ on second anniversary of #NPPF

Report Here, Sean Spiers Blog here

Daily Mail

Rural towns and villages are being placed under siege by the threat of 700,000 new homes in the countryside, according to a hard- hitting report.

Almost 200,000 of these are earmarked for supposedly protected Green Belt land thanks to the Government’s changes to planning laws, the Campaign to Protect Rural England warns today.

Its report reveals that just 84 local authorities – a quarter of those outside London – propose to prioritise building on brownfield sites.

A study of planning decisions also shows that 39 major housing developments in the year to March 2013, totalling 8,700 new houses on greenfield land, were given the green light after an appeal by developers – double the number the year before.

Some 17 appeals were granted personally by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles. In another 14 cases councils simply abandoned their objections because they feared losing on appeal.

The CPRE claims that the overall proportion of major appeals granted has risen to  46 per cent, up from 31.7 per cent in 2008-09.

The report has been written to coincide with the second anniversary this week of the Coalition’s National Planning Policy Framework, which established a presumption in favour of ‘sustainable development’ to kickstart house building.

But a third of all councils still do not have a Local Plan for development in place. These are supposed to give more power to residents and town hall chiefs to resist unwanted development.

The CPRE says the changes have led to an ‘unnecessary loss of countryside’ and have left some towns and villages facing the prospect of changing out of all recognition. At Kentford in Suffolk, proposals for 340 new homes are expected to double the size of the village.

At Warton in Lancashire, 1,365 homes are to be built in a town of just 3,573 houses – expected to lead to a population increase of up to 92 per cent.

The report says: ‘The most recent Government figures state that there is enough suitable brownfield land available for 1,500,000 new houses. Emerging and adopted Local Plans are, however, proposing significant amounts of building on greenfield land.

The CPRE says the changes have led to an ‘unnecessary loss of countryside’

‘We estimate that land has been allocated for 729,000 new houses, of which 190,000 are in the Green Belt. These sites are often on the edge of country towns and villages.’ It adds: ‘Many of these “villages under siege” are faced with planning applications proposing development well in excess of the amount envisaged in emerging or adopted Local Plans.’

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the CPRE, said the report provided ‘firm evidence’ that the Government’s planning reforms were not achieving their stated aims.

He added: ‘Far from community control of local development, we are seeing councils under pressure to disregard local democracy to meet top-down targets.

‘Local authorities are having to agree fanciful housing numbers and allocate huge areas of greenfield land to meet them. Where they lack an up-to-date plan, the countryside is up for grabs and many villages feel under siege from developers.’

Planning Minister Nick Boles said the report was ‘inaccurate, exaggerated and based on a spurious analysis of the facts’, adding: ‘We have given councils the power to shape where the new homes our country needs should and shouldn’t go.’

 

Reigate and Bansted Green Belt – Recommendation to Adopt But Further Confusion

Report to Cabinet and Full Council

Sensibly keeping to adoption recommendation – sensible and they had no other legal choice, even if they wanted to withdraw they would have to adopt first.  BUT the ‘unequivocal’ legal advice from Richard Harwood QC was before the release of Chrispin Blunt MPs statement on the meeting with Boles (which clearly implied that the GB would be untouched in his constituency) and the leaking of the secret instructions to Inspectors on this website which showed that there had been a change in policy.

Two options are presented in the Executive Report in relation to the Core Strategy: to adopt the Core Strategy, or not to adopt it. Legal advice has confirmed that these two broad options remain the only real ones that the Council has.
Option 1: To approve the Core Strategy for adoption: The Inspector’s recommended modifications to make the Core Strategy sound, insofar as they relate to the broad scale and location of sustainable urban extensions, are consistent with what has been agreed by the Council, as is his recommendation that a Green Belt Review will need to be undertaken as part of the Development Management Policies planning document. In addition, it has been confirmed that the requirement to balance competing policy objectives including housing need and Green Belt protection (which the Core Strategy seeks to do) remains a central part of national policy.
Option 2: Not to adopt the Core Strategy as currently proposed: This is what legal advice has described as ‘the nuclear option’. The Core Strategy has been found to be sound and legally compliant. Legal advice confirms that the Council cannot adopt a Core Strategy that is materially different from that recommended by the Planning Inspector. For any substantive changes to be made by the Council (such as removal of references to sustainable urban extensions, or a change to the housing number), the Core Strategy would have to be withdrawn for a second time. This would effectively mean going back to the drawing board.

The fact that it does indicate a change in policy (rather embarrassing to the QC) is made clear in the letter of Banglow Bob Kerslake to thee R&B CE.

I want to put beyond doubt that the final plan reflects the choices and decisions taken by your local authority. The Government has maintained strong protections for the Green Belt, while supporting local authorities that choose to undertake locally led reviews through the Local Plan process. It is unfortunate that the drafting of the Inspector’s report in this case has been misinterpreted in the media as imposing Green Belt development on your Council.

This is an unprecedented intervention by a head of the civil service in a local plan examination.  The CE responded.

I am writing to you to register my great concern concerning recent developments surrounding the impending adoption of the Council’s Core Strategy. I am also replying to your letter to me of 28 February.
It has been drawn to my attention that Crispin Blunt MP wrote to Conservative Members of our Council yesterday to tell them that he has arranged a meeting with the Planning Minister tomorrow, with a view to asking the Secretary of State to make changes to the Council’s Core Strategy by striking out reference to the proposed development of greenfield sites that will be needed to ensure that the Borough can maintain its housing land supply. He is also seeking to reduce the housing target to 350 new homes a year from the current 460. Central to this is Mr Blunt’s interpretation of Nick Boles’ letter last week to the Planning Inspectorate and his Written Statement introducing practice guidance, which Crispin Blunt takes to mean that Green Belt trumps the NPPF requirement for authorities to plan positively to meet objectively assessed housing need.
It is of great concern that an objector to the Core Strategy can seek to circumvent the plan preparation process in this way, by arranging a meeting with the Planning Minister and seeking to influence changes to the Core Strategy that have not been considered through the democratic process.

After the meeting with Boles, Kerslake and Quartermain it was clear that Blunt’s interpretation s in no way disabused.

In response to your letter of 28 February, I can confirm that the final plan reflects the choices and decisions taken by the Council to strike that balance. The reference to Green Belt sites being needed as a back-up to the housing land supply has always formed part of the Core Strategy. The modifications made in response to the Inspector’s concerns during the course
of the examination went a step further and identified the broad areas of search for sustainable urban extensions in the Green Belt. These modifications also had the support of the Executive and full Council.

But this is not quite the case is it. The first CS was found unsound because as a fudge in the midst of the process R&B added a clause about a Green Belt review at some unspecified point covering unspecified locations, and only did so because of the fear of being found unsound.  The inspector felt this was not enough.  If the ‘Blunt option’ was open to them – a constraint led housing target – then the full council as a whole might have voted for a different plan.  Of course the executive cllr and the leader invested a lot of capital in following what they thought was government policy.  What shocked me was that Bungalow Bob and anchorman seemed to have little idea on how the R&B plan came about!  All they needed to do was pick up the phone to Steve Clark, of of our most distinguished planners, who was interim head at R&B during when the plan was first put to examination. It gives the impression that since the abolition of regional offices and the temporary abolition of the local plan database at DCLG they had very little idea of what was going on the ground and could not brief ministers on that – so ministers naturally panicked when the egg hit the fan.  Especially when Boles was likely given an instruction by the PM to save the Green Belt in that nice chap Chrispin Blunt’s constituency.

Private Advice to Inspectors on Green Belt reviews – Yes it is a Change in Policy

Finally cleared up privately without another embarrassingly vague letter from Boles

PINS HQ is advising inspectors that the decision whether to treat unmet need as an exceptional circumstance justifying a GB boundary review is one for the Council and not for the examiner to take.  They are advised that the Minister wants Inspectors, where there is unmet need in a Green Belt area, to ask if a review had been considered, but that Inspectors cannot insist that it is considered.

So it is change in policy, its more than being angry at the tone.  Well it still doesn’t clear it up.  What then? Can an inspector advise that the decisions they have taken mean that the plan would be unsound?  If they cannot then it is a change in policy from what is in the NPPF and GB reviews come to a halt.    If they can then LPAs can work out themselves what the consequences of not carrying out a review would be without the inspector having to tell them.

It all seems worringly to me like the return to a presumption in favour of soundness which the courts tore apart bcause it was not in the act. So inspectors can now make whatever recommendations they like to make a plan sound, except on Green Belt.  Are we now to add like scottish law a third category – not proven sound, to the sound and unsound verdicts? One thing the minister does not have the power to do is change primary legislation by dictat, this is more than a change in policy that the SoS denies even making.

Although inspectors sit in the seat of the SoS in making decisions their greatest strength is their independence. If Boles is claiming this is not a change in policy then what is it?  Is it an ’employers instruction’ that inspectors will get into trouble if they make recommendations to carry out GB reviews even though this is what the NPPF says and was what ministers said it saidfor over a year?   If there are some things that inspectors cannot say, despite what government policy says, then this is a gag. Is it overtime for a rigorously independent PINS reporting only to parliament or the privy council?