As We Predicted the Housing Delivery Test is Toothless

Natanial Lictchfield

On 19th January 2021, MHCLG published the
results of the 2020 Housing Delivery Test. It
shows that 17% of local planning authorities
(55 authorities) face the presumption in favour
of sustainable development or ‘tilted balance’
penalty.
Spatially, this under-delivery is most acute in
the greater southeast and southern coastal areas;
however there is a challenge amongst some of
the north-western local authorities particularly
those surrounding Greater Manchester. 20%
of the LPAs in question did not have an up-todate Local Plan. It seems likely that slow Plan
preparation (which in itself may be impacted
by the challenges surrounding Green Belt
designations) plays a role in under-delivery.
Ultimately, the HDT’s tilted balance mechanism
is designed to boost housing delivery in poorly
performing local authorities by making it easier
to secure permission for unplanned housing
development. However:

  1. The majority of the authorities in question
    (44 out of 55) either have a housing land
    supply evidence base which is out of date,
    or agree that they cannot demonstrate a
    5YHLS. In such areas, a review of appeal
    decisions has confirmed that inspectors
    are not applying ‘additional’ weight in
    these cases (combining the failure to meet
    the HDT and 5YHLS targets), as the tilted
    balance is already engaged.
  2. Most of the HDT presumption authorities
    are significantly constrained by the
    Green Belt and/or other footnote 6
    designations, meaning that the very special
    circumstances required to justify new
    housing development is likely to deactivate
    the tilted balance on designated sites. A
    review of appeal decisions has confirmed
    that in almost all cases, the tilted balance
    is disengaged or outweighed by the need
    to demonstrate VSC, which neuters the
    effectiveness of the HDT ‘stick’.
  3. Of the 11 authorities with a stated 5YHLS
    (meaning the tilted balance could be
    triggered as a direct result of the HDT
    failure), 7 are heavily constrained by
    footnote 6/Green Belt designations,
    effectively disengaging the tilted balance in
    many cases.
  4. Of the remaining 4 authorities, three are
    predominantly urban in nature, which may
    reduce the impact of the tilted balance on
    speculative greenfield housing sites in real
    terms.
  5. The result is that in practice, housing supply
    in just one authority (Thanet) is likely to be
    significantly boosted by the presumption in
    favour of sustainable development triggered
    by the HDT.
    Based on the analysis above, it would appear
    that the Government’s HDT mechanism
    which seeks to address under-delivery is, in
    the vast majority of cases, toothless. Without
    significant reform, this represents a flawed
    policy mechanism which derives from the
    fundamental clash between the need to provide
    more housing versus the understandable desire
    to protect footnote 6 land.
    This is particularly
    concerning, given that the Government’s
    current proposals to reform the planning system
    recommend the removal of the 5YHLS penalty
    in its entirety, and to rely on the HDT alone to
    boost housing delivery in poorly performing
    council areas.

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