Pickles Again Makes it Up as He Goes Along on Prematurity

Planning Portal

The existence of emerging neighbourhood plans has proved a key factor in the fate of four recovered housing appeals determined by the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles.

Three involved the same local planning authority, Mid Sussex District Council, and the same neighbourhood plan, drawn up by Hurstpierpoint & Sayers Parish Council. One involved Wiltshire Council and the Malmesbury Neighbourhood Plan.

The three Mid-Sussex schemes, each refused by the local planning authority, involved plans by Thakenham Homes for an 81-home development at College Lane, Hurstpierpoint; a proposal by Rydon Homes for 157 homes and 50 acres of informal parkland also at Hurstpierpoint and a housing-led, mixed-use scheme at Sayers Common involving 120 homes, a care home, retail units and offices proposed by Woodcock Holdings.

All these three cases were the subject of separate public inquiries chaired by the same planning inspector who recommended the latter case should be allowed, a stance the Secretary of State disagreed with.

However, he agreed with the recommendations of the inspector in respect of the Hurstpierpoint schemes, one of which – proposed by Rydon Homes – was allowed.

These proposals were allowed as the land involved had been identified for housing in the emerging neighbourhood plan (NP).

The Secretary of State’s decision letter said that “as the council has yet to complete an up-to-date objectively assessed housing needs analysis against which to measure the overall neighbourhood plan proposals, he considers it appropriate, as things currently stand, to tip the planning balance in favour of the emerging neighbourhood plan proposals”.

In the case of Thakenham Homes and the Woodcock Holdings schemes the SoS‘s decision letters made it clear that the fact the emerging neighbourhood plan had identified housing allocations elsewhere had tipped the planning balance.

The fourth case involved plans from developer White Lion Land for a 77-home scheme, together public open space and a community building, at Malmesbury, Wiltshire. The inspector who held the recovered appeal had recommended it should be allowed.

Pickles disagreed. His decision letter pointed out that the appeal site was towards the bottom of the list of 25 sites for housing during the neighbourhood plan assessment. The neighbourhood plan is due to be examined later this month.

Pickles said that in these circumstances “the immediate benefits of releasing the appeal site as a contribution to meeting overall housing demand in the wider area are insufficient to justify the release of this site so soon before the examination of the neighbourhood plan proposals”.

If a neighbourhood plan is advanced and the proposal is large this can tip the planning balance  against a proposal, however as para 14 of the NPPF stands if there is not an objective assessment of need this should tip teh planning balance in favour of the scheme, after all there is a presumption in favour of development.  How is an emerging neighbourhood plan different from an merging local plan? What is the incentive to get on and produce an objective assessmeny of need?  Another prematurity legal challenge coming on I fear.

RSLs Poorly Performing Planning Authorities Should be Stripped of Powers


London town halls that refuse to shoulder their share of solving the capital’s housing crisis should be stripped of some of their planning powers by Whitehall, a hard-hitting report says today.

The radical recommendation is made in a manifesto from the g15 group of major housing associations — including Peabody, Notting Hill Housing and Family Mosaic — that provide homes for about one in 10 Londoners.

The document, called Unlocking Land And Planning, says “poorly performing local authorities should cede powers to the Department for Communities and Local Government or a (possibly roving) Urban Development Corporation”.

The report also argues that the “nimby” lobby has too much influence over the planning process and poorly housed residents who stand to gain from approval for new developments should be heard during applications.

Brendan Sarsfield, who chairs the g15 and is chief executive of Family Mosaic, said: “Politicians in particular are afraid of the nimby vote. They worry if they go off the safe ground they will be criticised. Housing should not be looked at on a five-year horizon but on a 20-year horizon like other long-term issues such as pensions.”

The boroughs with the smallest number of new homes completed in the 2013/14 financial year were Kensington & Chelsea with only 20, Harrow (80) and Kingston Upon Thames (110). The g15 report continues: “Securing planning consent for major projects should not be a lottery.”

It also said councils that refused responsible plans should be forced to cover the costs of any delays if the projects were later approved by the GLA or Planning Inspectorate.

Other proposals in the report include a national Government-run competition for ideas to speed up the pace of development; a major review of the green belt leading to “a frank debate about its purpose and quality”; and encouragement for local councils to support new homes by taking an equity stake.

A spokesman for London Councils, which represents the capital’s town halls, said: “Boroughs are committed to addressing the capital’s housing crisis. They already grant permission for around 55,000 homes per year, well above the Mayor’s housing target. However, less than half this number is completed by developers annually.”

Is a revived ‘Brownfield First’ Policy Practical or Possible

Hilary Benn yesterday at the CPRE annual lecture confirmed that a labour government would bring back ‘brownfield first’ one of thefew NPPF policy changes they would make.  Is this practical or possible?

The problem is that the policy was always poorly framed and as such undoubtedly helped slow the rate at which land was allocated for housing.  There is nothin g to stop LPAs now including brownfield first in local plans if they have 5 years supply.  The fact that few have or can shows there was an underlying problem that has not gone away.

The problem was that the original policy was framed as if there was a ‘stock’ of brownfield land.it is not it is a flow where new sites are coming on stream all the time and some brownfield sites wont come on stream for many years.  The 5 year supply however is framed as a flow, and it is the flow of brownfield sites which matter.

There are a few hypothetical changes a government of whatever colour could make.

1) It could be made compulsory rather than optional – little difference few if any authorities have gone ‘greenfield first’ if there are available and viable brownfield alternatives.

2) It could be made to apply at S78 appeals, so if the 5 year supply gap could be closed by alternative viable and available greenfield sites you would go to those sites first.  But this really should already apply as sites dont need to have consent to be part of the five year supply, they simply have to be suitable, viable and available within 5 years.

3) Have a real push on making brownfield sites viable and available through state action.  The only real option which would maintain flow of housing sites.

So beware those that cry brownfield first when they really mean abandoning or weakening policy on 5 years supply.

One thing that has been apparent in the public debate is that the stock of brownfield sites is not as great as often porpoised and often in the wrong places. perhaps the CPRE now regrets its ‘waste of space’ campaign having only identified 105 sites.  They would have been much better hiring someone to do spectral analysis of satellite images cross refereneced to business rates records to identify abandoned sites and buildings.