A ‘Good Faith Test’ for Local Plan Housing Targets? @joannaaverley

Times on policy announcements alongside Queens Speech

Ministers will also examine how the planning inspectorate enforces local housing need targets. Areas that are constrained by greenbelt land or areas of natural beauty will no longer be expected to reach “unrealistic” targets if they can produce a plan that is “well evidenced and drawn up in good faith”.

But Ministers have endlessly pointed out there is no national policy to ‘unrealistically’ max out to OAN after all the NPPF states in para. 66

Strategic policy-making authorities should establish a housing requirement figure for their whole area, which shows the extent to which their identified housing need (and any needs that cannot be met within neighbouring areas) can be met over the plan period.

However a flaw in the NPPF is it never clearly states to what extent it is reasonable to consider what kind of constraint. After all it is contradicted by para 35 soundness test 1

Positively prepared – providing a strategy which, as a minimum, seeks to meet the area’s objectively assessed needs; and is informed by agreements with other authorities, so that unmet need from neighbouring areas is accommodated where it is practical to do so and is consistent with achieving sustainable development;

Of course what many LPAs have lobbied for is to be able to ignore inspectors if ‘in good faith’ (how will that ever be judged). Ability to ignore inspectors isnt going to happen but some calrity on the circumstances under which constraints can constrain would be helpful.

The difficulty is wording it so that it doesn’t let LPAs off the hook and push numbers down. The real issue is reasonableness. ‘Good Faith’ is not a word that belongs ever in the NPPF. The issue is whether an LPA has pushed numbers down too low through overegging constraints.

The NPPF needs a simple paragraph stating something like the following:

In considering whether a [local plan target less than OAN + proportional unmet need from other authorities] meets the positively prepared test the local planning authority needs to be able to justify

  1. The extent to which environmental constraints limit development over the plan period including taking into account positive mitigation strategies
  2. The extent to which planning constraints are up to date and compatible with sustainable development
  3. Following consideration of constrained land under tests 1 and 2 the remaining amount and location of developable land within the plan area
  4. The extent to which sites have been objectively assessed and considered deliverable and developable and the extent to which evidence has been positively sought to overcome any constraints
  5. Where these tests are met plans may justifiably undershoot their OAN providing the duty to cooperate is met is seeking to meet shortfalls with partner authorities at a strategic scale.

The last point deals with the familiar tactic (failing JR in Sevenoaks and West Malling) and LPAs jointly agreeing to not work to meet each others needs.

The risk is without such tests LPAs will spend large amounts on disingenuous bullshit evidence (which we are already seeing in some areas) and we will be forced back 15 years to the position where LPAs really didn’t take strategic site promotions seriously.

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