The Guardian – Very True. Why not have we suggested before have a national commission such as the sadly scrapped NHPAU do it and be done with it. LPAs should not have to be hyper housing numbers wonks like me – they should be place making experts.
The coalition’s radical shake-up of the planning system was designed to unleash a spate of new housebuilding.
But on the second anniversary of the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework, we are still more than 100,000 houses a year short of targets.
There are a number of reasons for this, including wider economic factors, but there is little doubt that one of the choke points is the slow progress of local plans.
Findings from a recent survey of more than 100 local authorities highlight how the time it takes to approve a local plan has risen by 40% to 14 months – hardly conducive to delivering the homes the nation’s future generations require. One of the reasons for this is an evidence arms race which is causing gridlock in the planning system for some areas.
There is a growing bank of findings which show that the pro- and anti-housebuilding lobbies are cranking up the pressure on planning inspectors by presenting volumes of evidence for, or against, futurehousing needs. This involves drawing on the latest data and increasingly refined assumptions on the smallest detail as ammunition for the examination process.
On one side, some councils are investing significant amounts of money on evidence to try to justify reduced estimates of housing need in their local area, presenting a vast array of figures in an attempt to show that economic changes, pension age reform, increased private renting and more sharing of houses by younger people will reduce the level of housing required in their area.
In response, many developers then invest similar amounts assembling the evidence to counter these arguments. In one recent case involving a council in the south of England, a planning inspector had to go through some 20 conflicting consultation documents to come to a decision about whether or not the plan was sound.
Because there is always new data being released, parties on both sides latch on to the latest facts to justify their position, often leading to further delays.
Our research found that just over half of all local plans have proposed fewer homes than the former regional strategy had envisaged, and half of councils have yet to publish a new local plan.
Meanwhile, areas with local plans that predate the NPPF are vulnerable because they do not accord with most recent policy requirements that local areas meet housing needs. These are likely to be overturned on appeal. This applies even for plans prepared as recently as 2011.
A revitalised economy is reinforcing the development industry’s appetite to build new homes. Given the extent of England’s housing crisis and the policy stipulations of the NPPF that local plans must positively seek opportunities to meet the need for new homes, the deep scrutiny of housing plans will not go away soon.
It is also becoming apparent that some local authorities have ambitious targets for new jobs in their areas, but do not match this with sufficient housing development in their plans to enable residents of working age to get on the housing ladder. This leads to long-distance commuting, making it difficult for local businesses to recruit.
Unless this changes, housing will continue to be a planning battleground for years, and all parties will continue to draw upon evidence to back up their position at examinations and planning appeals.
A huge amount of intellectual energy are being invested in an attritional debate over housing numbers when we would all be better off if local areas planned to meet their housing needs and made the case for housing to local residents so that all involved could then focus on good design, mixed communities and creating better places and homes.
Matthew Spry is director at planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners