A couple of years ago Pickles was quietly saying this to Green Belt Conservative Authorities, but Boles and the Treasury overruled him. now he has his own boy in place. This was convenient to them as it meant they would not have to review Green Belts.
The housing minister is happy to allow councils to ignore the government’s requirement for them to adopt local plans setting out how they will meet housing need.
Inside Housing research revealed in October that fewer than one in five have adopted local plans.
Councils have a statutory duty to produce a local plan that complies with the planning framework. But if they do not have a local plan in place the NPPF states there will instead be a default ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ for house builders that submit plans to build new homes.
‘Somewhere could conceivably decide that they don’t want a local plan and they will rely on the NPPF,’ Mr Lewis stated. While this would not be ‘necessarily ideal’ there would be ‘no role for the government’ if such a decision was taken, he added.
The news could prove significant because 40% of councils don’t currently have a local plan in place, despite the NPPF’s requirement for them to do so – and fewer than one in five have a local plan that fully complies with the NPPF (because many were adopted before the NPPF came into force). Planning experts warned this could mean a ‘free-for-all’ for developers.
Elizabeth Boyd, associate director with planning consultancy Tetlow King, said Mr Lewis’ comments suggested a change of emphasis from the government.
She said some councils might ‘initially think “brilliant, we don’t need to go through all the pressure and resource implications of doing a local plan, particularly where it is politically sensitive”’.
‘That [would] then mean it is a free for all for developers really,’ she added. ‘What’s being suggested is great for developers.’
Mike Kiely, chair of the Planning Officers’ Society board and head of planning and building control at Croydon Council, said that there are a number of councils that ‘haven’t got a plan in place and there is no obvious prospect that they are going to any time soon’. Sometimes this is because of resource problems in smaller councils and on other occasions because of political issues, he suggested.
However, he warned that Mr Lewis’ relaxed approach to the production of local plans could stymie the development of new housing in rural areas because of updated guidance published by the government in October. This stated green belt boundaries can only be altered in exceptional circumstances – and that meeting established housing need may not count as exceptional.
‘The minister should read his own guidance,’ Mr Kiely stated. ‘The position isn’t quite as the housing minister thinks. As a nation we are growing. And if we want to house our population that [recent] guidance is monumentally unhelpful.’
The news came in the week that a planning inspector suggested that the level of housing proposed in Cheshire East Council’s local plan strategy ‘seems inadequate’ and said there seemed to be ‘insufficient justification’ for plans to establish a new green belt in the south of the district.
What do we make of this? Well clearly with only 11 local plans adopted last year the Governments own targets for plan coverage were becoming a joke. It could not relay on stats for published plans if few of them were adopted and most adopted plans were becoming out of date if not reviewed.
Secondly now Green Belt reviews are solely a matter of local choice if you don’t have to have a local plan you don’t have to do a Green Belt review. Also the duty to cooperate trigger doesn’t kick in and no way of calculating the objectively assessed need overspill to other areas. Hence the system as a whole significantly undersupplies need. Appeals, for having less than a 5 year supply, under the NPPF will only rectify this outside Green Belt areas following guidance that housing need is not an exceptional circumstance.
This is a council of failure in every way. A failure to plan, a failure to meet need, a total failure of the NPPF to meet its sole real objective, to scare authorities fearing a free for all into getting a local plan. The incentive simply doesn’t apply in Green Belt authorities. The NPPF has a huge structural flaw which Pickles and Lewis have used to outflank the Treasury, at least until the general elections. If the planning minister doesn’t really believe in local plans then he doesn’t really believe in planning. Rather in Green Belt he believes in doing nothing, and elsewhere letting the market rip. He is the minster for sprawl. This really is the stupidest statement ever made by a UK planning Minister.