Why so Many SoS Housing Decisions are Being Refused – The 10 Covert Changes to National Planning Policy

Eric Pickles has made the decision to covertly alter national planning policy in the run up to the general election. He must have been given te instruction to ‘take the heat out’ of the greenfield issue in the run up to the election.  Hence the dramatic shift from ‘build what you like where you like’ to a position where an approval of a housing, windfarm or Gypsy site on a recovered or called in appeal is as rare as hens teeth.

Dating thus change is difficult as it has been slipped out in a number of statements, guidance and other forms. Every week now seems to have a change to national policy.  It seems to date sometime from late Sept and Early November 2014 in full force, with a discernible shift seen from March 2014 when NPPG was issued.  But make no mistake the tactic is to subvert NPPF para 14 and be able to refuse as many housing schemes as possible, and to covertly signal to conservative marginal seats that LPAs should follow the signal.  If you doubt this just look at the statistics on SoS decisions before and after this period.  There are enough now to detect a statistically meaningful pattern.  This kind of shift only occurs after an epochal shift in national planning policy.  Indeed the shift evolves as the SoS finds ever more imaginative reasons to refuse schemes.  In one appeal in Cheshire East released this week a scheme was refused contrary to an inspectors advice because it might one day be designated as Green Belt (although there are no firm plans) I kid  you not.

What are the components of this change.  Lets add them up.  I count 10 we will probably discover some more before the election as ministers make them up as they go along.

  1. The addition of the ‘Not at Any Cost’ doctrine to the Interpretation of the NPPF  – see here .  This is wording not in the NPPF.  It is new. Referred to in parliament several times over recent months and formally in the DCLG select response on the 27/2/2015
  2. The Application of a Stronger Test for the Setting of Heritage Assets – this shift is older results from the NPPF being found not in compliance with the wording of the 1990 LB&CA Act.  This has been particularly used in Windfarm cases and occasionally elsewhere.  It has been applied rigidly within the SoS allowed discretion of any not unreasonable is permissible.
  3. The Strong Application of the Prematurity Doctrine to Neighbourhood Plans – applied in several stages from amending the call in criteria to the strengthened prematurity guidance in NPPG in March 2014.  The application of this has had a particularly dramatic effect as it allows LPAs to apply the now well known Neighborhood Plan Bait and Switch to effectively reverse the para. 14 presumption.  In private meetings with Tory Mps and Council leaders Pickles has been expressly urging its use.
  4. The Weakening of the OAN ‘met in full’ requirement – set down in NPPG amendment Oct 16th.  The doctrine that the SHMA was just the ‘starting point’ was the pre NPPF position.  But the excessively short NPPF itself did not make that clear, so now added to guidance.
  5. The Change in Approach over the Green Belt ‘Very Special Circumstances’ test in relation to OAN  (Oobjectively Assessed Need) Just after the NPPF was issued there were a few called in cases, such as at Lytham St Annes, where the VSC test was deemed to be met because of severe  shortage of 5 year supply.  Not any more after a ministerial statement in July 2013.   This was underlined by the Court of Appeal decision in the Hunstan Case that it is common in Green Belt areas to not meet need and so this could not be ‘very special’.   An odd logic in my view as the reason why we have different ‘very special’ and ‘exceptional circumstances’ test is that very special occurs commonly, an example being extensions to meet the needs of disabled persons in the Green Belt.  Very special but common.  The change was introduced to allow ministers to refuse more Travellers cases in the Green Belt but to avoid being discriminatory had to apply to all housing.  As a result another very special but common case travellers its in the Green Belt, are locked out.
  6. The Reigate Doctrine – You Cant be Told to Review Green Belts – Dates back to March 2014 and the subsequently confirmed in NPPG.  Covered extensively on this blog.
  7. The Treatment of Green Belt as a ‘constraint’ for Not Meeting OAN in Full – Confirmed in NPPG.  Already taken up in Guildford and Mole Valley to slow down plan reviews till after the election.  Yet to be fully tested if LPAs cant confirm that land meets Green Belt Purposes and they say other LPAs should meet overspill and they can’t agree under the Duty to Cooperate, they may have a torrid time at EiP.  A simple holding and delaying tactic to avoid bad headlines pre-election.
  8. The Increased Weight Given to Valued Landscapes – A subtle shift discernible in SoS decisions.  The NPPF does not define what is a ‘valued landscape’  – an unreported case in Stroud has seen Justice Ousley declare that popularity alone is not sufficient to meet he test.  This needs to be seen against the increasingly complex caselaw about whether housing supply policies are out of date.  I wont try to summarise that caselaw here however the courts, in some cases as in the new Cheshire East v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Richborough Estates specific to a local plan have declared policies on the open countryside to be landscape protection policies and not housing supply policies in-terms of the NPPF. The evidence is that the SoS is using this caselaw to  apply a general protection of the open countryside policy even where there is no 5 year supply.  Indeed it took the SoS only a few days to apply the Cheshire East case to the Church Lane Crew case.
  9. Giving Increased Weight to the Environmental and Social Components of Sustainable Development – brand new DCLG Select Committee repose, whilst dressed up this was in the NPPF all along, it wasn’t.
  10. Introducing the ‘very clear’ test that permitted sites be included in the 5 year supply – brand new

Have you spotted any more? (update now an 11th of course on Starter Homes)

These 10 changes give a suite of options for ministers to refuse schemes and there are few cases where Lewis and Pickles has not found one to use.

Covertly and gradually introduced over the last few months – possibly as Brandon Lewis read himself into his new job and as cases came before his desk.  There was also I think a political instruction from Osborne and Cameron to ‘take the heat off’ .  I did speculate for a time that Pickles was covertly trying to undermine Osborne was his attention was elsewhere.  I don’t think this is plausible for two reasons.  Firstly the shifts are joined up across government, witness Gideon’s ‘urban planning revolution’ speech and him referring to planning at every autumn statement and March Budget. Secondly the whips must have been impressing on the leadership the near state of rebellion on the back benches.  At one point there was a Westminster Hall debate every other week.  Now things have calmed down a little, the message must have come down from the top that action has been taken.

Dont get me wrong many of these changes should have been in the NPPF from the outset as they correct obvious flaws.  But a major almost 180- degree change in policy has been introduced without a single advertise dchange to the NPPF and with no consultation.  What happened to the simplicity the NPPF was supposed to bring if you now have to read several lever arch files of precedents and one off statements to understand how it is being applied.  It is a constant ever changing mess.  No wonder local plans take so long.

Partly also it is a change in culture.  Clarke and Boles were quite prepared to take the lofty position of setting NPPF policy and letting cases take there course come what may.  A former cllr like Brandon Lewis does not think like that, he cannot result the ability to politically shape events by calling in more and deciding more whatever policy says, and then shifting policy ad hoc to back the decision. As a result the NPPF is an undermined and devalued document.  The main premise it was founded on, the John Rhodes/John Howell stick, if you don’t produce a local plan you get beaten, is now longer applied.  Without that the loss of land allocations from region plans would not be compensated for by scattered development around villages. Ministers have given up on local plans and now apply the stick in a padded glove.  So it is now likely without the Rhodes/Howell stick planning approvals for housing will fall and fall dramatically, unless there is a post election reversal.

Local Planning Authorities will cotton on and refuse more and more without waiting for appeals.  The recent Crane Case that the decision maker can give any weight to an adopted plan that is reasonable means, as a side effect, that LPAs cannot be found unreasonable for refusing a scheme against a local plan when there isn’t a 5 year supply, hence no costs.  Hence the big stick of the fear of costs, applied so many times by heads of planning no longer applies.

Is Pickles Serious – #NPPF will avoid ‘Rabbit Hutch’ Homes


Eric Pickles, the Local Government secretary, appealed directly to readers of The Daily Telegraph to back the reforms, insisting that fears they “will lead to a charge of concrete mixers rolling into the English countryside were completely unfounded”.

The news came as government plans to allow home owners to double the size of ground floor extensions without planning permission were rejected by the Lords.

The new national planning policy framework, which came into force on Tuesday night, requires councils to promote “sustainable development” in planning decisions.

The 52-page NPPF – which replaces more than 1,400 pages of existing guidance – was bitterly opposed by rural campaigners and readers of the Telegraph through its “Hands Off Our Land” campaign.

Sir Andrew Motion, a former poet laureate and chairman of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, suggested the change would “wreck the countryside”.

He said the NPPF was “proving to be ground breaking in all the wrong ways”, adding: “Developing greenfield sites unnecessarily and with inadequate local consultation is entirely the wrong way to make sure that we get the new homes the country so badly needs.

“This is a charter for builders and truly irreversible damage is already underway. It is urgent that something is done about it.”

Sir Simon Jenkins, the chairman of the National Trust, said: “The majority of the English countryside which is not designated for protection is now to be released for development to a degree that we have not experienced since the 1940s.

“That is clearly the case and this is very sad. It just means we are moving away from planning of any sort towards a building permit system as in Ireland.”

The National Trust published a report which appears to show the NPPF is forcing planning inspectors to favour developers over the views of local people.

The report by the Local Government Information Unit found that the Planning Inspectorate, which rules on controversial planning schemes, was increasingly over-ruling local people because of the new National Planning Policy Framework.

It said: “The LGiU has found evidence that for ensuring that local plans are consistent with the NPPF, it is prioritising development over the views of local people.

“The LGiU found that the need for more new homes was the most common reason for local plans being found unsound. Supporters of the NPPF have acknowledged that national priorities are taking precedence over the views of local communities.”

But Mr Pickles warned that people will be condemned to “rabbit hutch houses” unless the planning reforms were allowed to work and development allowed.

Mr Pickles pledged that “every inch of brownfield land” would be built on, rather than greenfield areas as campaigners feared.

He said: “We are making the most of every single square inch of brownfield land, every vacant home and every disused building.

“We’re seeing the right decisions made – less appeals, less challenges, and less overturning. Fewer planning appeals means more local decision-making.”

Of course if the NPPF had a single clause in it preventing ‘rabbit houtch homes’ ‘hobbit homes’ whatever you want to call it then he might be taken seriously.  But with him stripping away local standards and not adopting room size standards the NPPF becomes a charter for rabbit hutch builders.

A Summary of Stalled EiPs on SHMA and Housing Boost Issues #NPPF

An analysis done by my team in Cambridge and our Colleagues in South Cambridgeshire that will be of wider interest.


CS Status:        Authority is proposing to increase its housing target to be in line with RSS figures.

 PINS:                PINS interim conclusions refers back to the South East RSS numbers, and state that the LPA housing evidence seems based upon policy and land supply considerations rather than objectively assessed need.

Inspector also states that the economic downturn is not a reason to lower housing figures over a 20 year time period, and references NPPF re. boosting significantly housing supply.

Proposed Modifications include a commitment to an early review of the Core Strategy.

Lessons:           In areas where they are still extant, RSS figures are still the benchmark. Objectively assessed needs should be identified separately to supply considerations.

The economic downturn is not a reason to lower housing figures over a 20 year time period.

An option for authorities not looking to meet their “objectively assessed needs” is to commit to an early review of the Core Strategy.

Boosting significantly the supply of housing is a relevant consideration.


CS Status:        Evidence for District Housing Requirement based on SHMA (discounted RSS figures)

PINS:                SHMA recommended between 1350-1411dpa.  Inspector concluded that LPA should be aiming for 1,600dpa (RSS figure) rather than the proposed 1,300dpa.

Core Strategy withdrawn due to this, and also due to the associated lack of identification of sufficient housing and employment land supply.

Lessons:           In areas where they are still extant, RSS figures are still the benchmark.

Suffolk Coastal

CS Status:        Council is now consulting on proposals for Main Modifications to the Core Strategy including revised housing target.

PINS:                Objectively assessed need figure initially identified was below RSS and below from EEFM modelling outputs; this figure was identified using a “policy judgement” relating to environmental constraints. Inspector stated that such matters were not relevant to identifying objectively assessed needs.

Inspector is seemingly allowing a revised housing target (higher than proposed initially, but still around 1,000 lower than RSS levels), on the basis that Suffolk Coastal commit to an early review (I&O publication in 2015), a review that also relates to an identified land supply shortfall in relation to the selected housing target.

Lessons:           Objectively assessed needs should be identified separately to supply considerations.

An option for authorities not looking to meet their “objectively assessed needs” is to commit to an early review of the Core Strategy.

East Hampshire

CS Status:        Considering suspending its examination

PINS:                Inspector questions lack of up-to-date SHMA to support housing number (despite the proposed number conforming to the RSS requirement).

Also stated that needs should be identified, even if environmental designations prevent this need being met.

Noted that no duty to cooperate discussions had taken place regarding meeting unmet need.

East Hants did have an NLP produced 2011 Local Housing Requirements study, and a 2012 Housing Needs Assessment Update.

East Hants proposed to undershoot the housing figures in their Housing Requirements Study.

Lessons:           An up-to-date SHMA is required.

Objectively assessed needs should be identified separately to supply considerations.

If need will go unmet due to land constraints, NPPF requires that needs be assessed and communication take place with neighbours to discuss meeting unmet need.

High but deliverable affordable housing need can influence an increased housing target.


CS Status:        Considering suspending its examination after Inspector questions main housing requirement, due to its not proposing to meet the East Midlands RSS number.

Following an exploratory meeting to discuss the Inspector’s initial concerns, principally regarding their housing total, the Inspector is recommending a withdrawal of the Core Strategy, or at least a  6 month suspension of the Examination.

PINS:                Inspector cites ONS SNPP projections, and the fact that the Council does not propose to meet these figures; all adjoining councils criticised Rushcliffe’s housing policy during consultation.

Inspector noted that since the authorities in the HMA can’t agree what the overall HMA housing demand figure should be, it makes it very difficult to identify that number.

Inspector references NPPF “boosting significantly the supply of housing” as a relevant factor.

Notes that adjoining districts were all openly critical of the Plan’s housing policy.

Recommends that if the problem is focused on the distribution, not the amount, of housing demand, the HMA authorities should discuss this, outside of the Examination.

Lessons:           National population and household projections should be seen as the starting point for assessing housing demand.

In areas where they are still extant, RSS figures are still the benchmark.

SHMA should identify a total housing figure for the HMA.

If an authority disagrees with the spatial distribution of housing figures across district boundaries, this should be resolved prior to Examination through meetings with HMA authorities.

Boosting significantly the supply of housing is a relevant consideration.


CS Status:        Submitted to PINS. Inspector’s draft interim conclusions released.

PINS:                Proposing to undershoot ONS SNPP projections, and didn’t test the sustainability of higher levels of housing provision.

Inspector noted that it didn’t show an objective identification of housing demand.

When shown evidence as to why environmental constraints meant that the housing requirement should not be increased, agreed to a proposed 25% “local buffer” approach allowing flexibility over the headline minimum housing target.

Inspector required commitment to review the Plan within the next 5 years.

Lessons:           National population and household projections should be seen as the starting point for assessing housing demand.

Objectively assessed needs should be identified separately to supply considerations.

An option for authorities not looking to meet their “objectively assessed needs” is to commit to an early review of the Core Strategy.


CS Status:        Council has agreed to Inspector’s suggestion that they commit to an early review of their Core Strategy.

PINS:                Inspector suggests that Dacorum’s selected housing target is based upon environmental constraints, not demand.

Cites CLG housing projections in his discussion of objectively assessed need.

Emphasises that housing demand assessment should take place first and separately from supply assessments.

Suggests that Dacorum & St Albans should have communicated about St Albans meeting Dacorum’s unmet demand.

Lessons:           Objectively assessed needs should be identified separately to supply considerations.

National population and household projections should be seen as the starting point for assessing housing demand.

If need will go unmet due to land constraints, NPPF requires that needs be assessed and communication take place with neighbours to discuss meeting unmet need.


CS Status:        Withdrawn Dec 2012.

PINS:                Inspector initially stated that it was very difficult to understand what the derivation of the selected housing target was.

In proposed modifications, Hull proposed to lower their housing target based on Census 2011 results.

In arriving at these figures they contradicted evidence from the 2009 SHMA regarding predicted migration change.

Inspector questions legitimacy of “selective” housing numbers report, and also questions legitimacy of “outdated” SHMA 2009 Update.

In recommending the withdrawal of the CS, the Inspector stated that updating Housing Market Assessment would be essential.

Lessons:           An up-to-date SHMA is required.

Methodologies for arriving at housing numbers should be transparent.

Housing target requirement papers should consider all relevant forecasts, rather than being “selective”.
Bath & NE Somerset

CS Status:        Core Strategy Examination suspended Sept 2012. Examination Hearings intended to be resumed in July 2013.

PINS:                Inspector noted that:

SHMA did not identify an overall housing demand figure for the HMA;

The district’s housing requirement was established at district rather than HMA level;

Housing figure based upon linear and inflexible multiplier between jobs and homes, and did not consider population or household projections; and

Affordable housing needs would not be addressed by housing target.

Lessons:           An up-to-date SHMA is required.

Objectively assessed needs should be identified separately to supply considerations.

Aligning housing targets solely to jobs growth is too narrow- a rounded assessment is needed.

Methodologies for arriving at housing numbers should be transparent.

With regard to economic growth, it is impossible to say that one projection is right and others wrong; there is too much uncertainty.

In assessing soundness, the degree of alignment with the economic strategy of the Local Enterprise Partnership and flexibility to respond to changing economic circumstances are both important matters

UPDATE:         Officers recommend to Members that they update the strategy and required evidence base comply with all of the Inspectors findings.


CS Status:        CS thrown out unlawful.

PINS:                Have not met the legal requirements of the 2004 Act in that Council has not engaged constructively with neighbouring local planning authorities on the strategic matter of the number of houses proposed in the Plan.

There is a lack of broad consistency in the way housing need is being calculated between the various LPAs in the Coventry housing market area

This calls into question whether they are all capable of meeting their housing requirements within their borders, consequently there is no requirement for any local authority to meet any part of its housing requirements in another area.

It has not collaborated with its neighbours to produce a joint SHMA for the housing market area even though paragraph 159 of the Framework says it should

 The evidence does not show that cooperation between Coventry and its neighbouring councils has been constructive, as required by the 2004 Act, or effective as is expected by paragraph 181 of the Framework.

Lessons:           There needs to be a single, consistent method for calculating housing need in the HMA.

There is a need for a joint, up-to date SHMA.

This is vital if full duty to co-operate is to be demonstrated.


CS Status:        Now adopted (in Jan 2013), having made modifications as recommended by the Inspector after initial submission in 2012(headline points outlined below).

PINS:                The proposed housing targets had not been adequately justified against RSS.

The evidence available for Hertsmere does not amount to Objectively Assessed Need, as required by the NPPF.

Fully addressing the Framework will require significant additional evidence gathering, collaboration and positive planning with other authorities, including consideration of any need to review the boundaries of the Metropolitan Green Belt (Green Belt)

Required that the Plan’s housing target to be a minimum figure and for the Council to delete the proposed phasing approach, which was considered to unnecessarily constrain delivery

The Council should review the CS early, so as to adress the points to do with objectively assessed need and evidence base.

Lessons:           Where an RSS is not revoked, it (and its evidence base) should not be brushed aside.

It is vital that the full Objectively Assessed Need is shown.

An updated SHMA is needed.

Key Conclusions

The need for an up-to-date evidence base, in particular an up-to-date SHMA is evident almost across the board. This is vital for understanding the full Objectively Assessed Need, as outlined in the NPPF.

The Duty to Cooperate is another reoccurring issue, and relates to the above point about the spread of housing required across various Districts in the Housing Market Area. Again, this is reliant on sound evidence.

Objectively Assessed Needs should be identified separately to supply considerations.

In the earlier EiPs that were taking place in the immediate wake of the publishing of the NPPF, Inspectors seem to have allowed for Plans and Core Strategies to continue on the basis that they can be reviewed early. This is unlikely to be a luxury afforded to any Plans coming forward in 2013/14, as it will be almost 2 years since the NPPF was published. Indeed, Coventry is a good example of this lack of leniency.

The Tewksbury Case – Localism Act is No Big Deal #NPPF

The Ballilaw link 

On prematurity

Even if full weight was given to the emerging JCS, in the inspector’s view the JCS proposals were not capable of meeting the identified housing need, and therefore could not rebut the presumption in favour of development as a result of the absence of a five year housing land supply. However, he went on to consider the effect of the Localism Act 2011 on the approach to be adopted, concluding that there was nothing in the Act to alter the long established requirement for a five year housing land supply and recognising that “the tension in policy between the desire for decisions to be taken locally and the requirement for a 5 year HLS remains unaltered”.

    On the basis of this analysis the inspector’s conclusions on prematurity were as follows. First, applying paragraph 18 of PS:GP, the JCS was only just at the consultation stage, without an agreed option to take it forward, and in such circumstances refusal on the ground of prematurity would only seldom be justified. Second, it was very unlikely on any basis that Tewkesbury’s proposed trajectory for housing development could deliver a five year housing land supply, whichever figures were used. Third, allowing the appeals would not predetermine future decisions on the scale, location or timing for any of the other proposed development sites which would be required under the JCS. Accordingly, Tewkesbury’s evidence failed the test indicated in paragraph 19 of PS:GP of showing clearly how allowing the appeal would prejudice the outcome of the JCS process. Thus

the inspector cannot be said to have disregarded the JCS. Rather he engaged with it but concluded that it did not bear the weight which Tewkesbury sought to put upon it..

    In my judgment, subject to the issue as to the effect of the Localism Act and the policy which it embodies, the inspector’s report and the Secretary of State’s decision accepting and adopting that report were the result of an entirely unexceptional application of the legal and policy principles set out above. In particular, the inspector and the Secretary of State were entitled to conclude that (1) the existing pre-PCPA 2004 development plan was outdated and therefore of very little weight; (2) the need for a five year housing supply was a material (and in fact the most important material) consideration; (3) Tewkesbury was unable to demonstrate such a supply in this case; (4) accordingly a presumption in favour of granting permission applied; (5) the emerging JCS was of little weight because it was at a very early stage; (6) in any event the proposals in the JCS were incapable of meeting the demand for housing during the next five years; (7) granting permission would not prejudice the JCS process; (8) there was therefore no basis to refuse permission on the ground of prematurity or otherwise because of the JCS; and (9) overall, the balance came down in favour of granting permission. Each of these conclusions was the result of applying well established principles and policies to the evidence before the inspector and was a legitimate exercise of planning judgment.

Mr Leigh submits that paragraph 14.8 of the inspector’s report (set out at [34] above) was wrong in law because the inspector treated the absence of a five year housing land supply as determinative in favour of the grant of permission, regardless of all other considerations. I would agree that if he had done so, that would have been an error of law, as paragraph 71 of PPS 3 (set out at [16] above) does not go that far. Nor do paragraphs 47 to 49 of the NPPF (see [18] above). However, as already explained, that is manifestly not what the inspector did. He was entitled to regard the lack of a five year housing supply as “the most important material consideration”, which was a matter of weight and therefore a decision for his judgment, but he did not treat it as a trump card overriding and rendering irrelevant everything else. I would not accept that (as Mr Leigh put it) once the lack of a five year housing supply had been identified, the result was a foregone conclusion.

The Localism Act – A Fundamental CHange?

I come now to the question whether the Localism Act 2011 has brought about a fundamental change in the approach to planning applications so as to vitiate the conclusions reached by the Secretary of State. Mr Leigh submits that it has, so that much greater weight must now be given to the views of the local planning authority. He identifies the change, not so much in the words of the Act (I invited him to draw to my attention the statutory provisions which had the effect contended for, but he made clear that this was not how he put his case) but in broad statements made by government ministers and others as to what the Act was intended to do, eliminating “top down” planning and transferring power to local communities.

  • However, the core principle in paragraph 17 must be read in the context of the NPPF as a whole. That context includes (1) the presumption in favour of sustainable development in paragraph 14; (2) the requirement to boost significantly the supply of housing in paragraph 47; (3) the need, also in paragraph 47, for a five-year supply of housing land and the corresponding injunction in paragraph 49 that policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up to date if a five-year supply cannot be demonstrated; (4) the one year transitional period for development plans adopted in accordance with the PCPA 2004 by paragraph 214; and (5) the confirmation of the principle of prematurity contained in paragraph 216….
  • In my judgment these matters are capable of being read together as a coherent whole. They demonstrate that, for the future, development plans prepared by local planning authorities in accordance with the national policy principles set out in the NPPF, including the provision of a five year housing land supply, will represent the starting point for consideration of planning applications, and that it may well be difficult to obtain permission for developments which are not in accordance with such plans. However, they do not suggest that greater weight should be accorded to the views of local authorities who do not have such a development plan (or during the one year transitional period, a development plan produced in accordance with the PCPA 2004) over and above whatever weight would be appropriate pursuant to the long established prematurity principle. Nor do they cast any doubt on the fact that, pending the adoption of local development plans, individual planning applications will continue to be dealt with, where appropriate by the Secretary of State, applying existing principles…
  • I consider, therefore, that the Secretary of State was correct to say, in paragraph 32 of the decision letter set out at [48] above, not only that there have been changes to the planning system as a result of the Localism Act which will give local communities more say over the scale, location and timing of developments in their areas than was previously the case, but also that this greater say over such matters will depend upon the expeditious preparation of local plans which make provision (including in particular a five year supply of housing land) for the future needs of those areas. The Secretary of State’s decision in this case is in accordance with and not in contradiction to that approach. I see, therefore, no valid basis on which it can be concluded that the Secretary of State’s decision is unlawful as being contrary to his own policy, introduced as a result of or embodied in the Localism Act
  • his essential case is (and can be no more than) that in some (undefined) circumstances the views of the local authority (albeit not yet embodied in an adopted local plan) are entitled to greater weight than other material considerations such as the need for a five-year housing supply (or, in effect, that the prematurity principle should now apply in circumstances where previously it would not have done). But quite apart from the fact that no such conclusion can be drawn from the generalised policy statements on which he relies, such a case would amount, apparently for the first time in English planning law, to laying down as a rule of law a requirement as to the weight to be given to the views of the local authority rather than leaving such matters to the planning judgement of the Secretary of State or his inspector. This would contradict what Lord Hoffmann described as a fundamental principle of planning law (see [50] above). The Localism Act contains nothing which could be regarded as enacting such a radical change and in my judgment it is inconceivable that any such change was intended to be brought about by the policy statements which accompanied the Act.
  • .

The role of Memorandums of Understanding in the Duty to Cooperate -Tamworth #NPPF

Further interesting development onwards from Coventry and Rushcliffe on the role of Memorandums of Development and the Duty to Cooperate at Tamworth.

In the Inspectors Letter the Inspector included in the notes of what changes were necessary to make the plan sound

  • to align the two separate Anker Valley policy housing allocations in Tamworth Borough and Lichfield District on either side of the B5493 Ashby Road to form a
  • comprehensively developed housing site of some 2150 homes;
  • more detail on how the 1000 homes outside the Borough to meet its housing requirements will be dealt with by Lichfield and North Warwickshire Councils;

At he exploratory meeting.

Mr Roberts said that the Council intended to remove the restrictions in the various Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) and that these 1000 homes would appear on the Housing Trajectory as part of the Borough’s housing land supply. In response to queries, such as that from John Mitchell, Mr Roberts explained that the Lichfield MoU would be amended to remove restrictions so that both it and the Plan’s Anker Valley allocation could be treated as one comprehensive site (removing the restrictions on working starting only after 2021 or once the necessary linkages were complete). The North Warwickshire MoU would be amended to remove its restrictions, which are primarily not to deliver its homes until 75% of the Anker Valley or Borough homes had been completed. 

Whether or not MoUs are needed to cover cross boundary sites  to demonstrate DTP compliance has been a hot topic of discussion.  The finding here seems to suggest (even though the plan overall failed)  that they will if they enable the site to be treated as a whole in an unrestricted manner.  Whereafter they can be treated as part of the ‘overspill’ to meet the objectively assessed need of the main tightly bounded town in NPPF terms.

The rest of the letter is worth reading.  Unintentionally funny sadly, you only allocated one site, you should have allocated 75 etc.

I have a major post in the works on how EiPs in the last six months have tackled SHMAs of the NPPF ‘Booost’ issue.

Key #NPPF 5 year Supply Appeal – 25 Year Supply and Still Loses, A Key Tactical Error by East Devon


Land east of Butts Road, Higher Ridgeway, Ottery St. Mary, Devon, EX11 1EP.  East Devon 130 dwellings.

Some highlights

Unlike one of the reports that underpins the emerging LP and which, amongst other things, is cautious about the use of the 2008 DCLG projections, the evidence base to the draft RSS has been independently examined and is arguably more robust. para 11

The Council has calculated, under the SP requirements, that there is about a 5.7 years supply of housing land within the District. (About 27.5 years supply
in the ‘Rest of East Devon’ and about 3 years supply in the ‘West End’ [Cranbrook or at the PUA].) In contrast, the appellant has calculated that there is only about a 3.6 years district-wide supply. (para 15)

The clincher

The Council has estimated that 500 dwellings would be provided from [Proposed strategic allocations in the emerging LP]  including the recent schemes for the Island Farm site at Ottery St. Mary.  However, these sites do not have planning permission and are not available now. … the timing of the submission of some of these applications appears to be more than coincidental, given the date of the Inquiry into this appeal. … I recognise that much work has gone into the preparation of the emerging LP and that there is local support for the Island Farm allocation. However, the extent of this support and opposition to the allocations within the emerging LP will not be apparent until after the current ‘consultation stage’ has been completed. The principle of undertaking development on these sites has yet to be independently examined. Whilst that is a separate matter for another Inspector, it is by no means certain that the Plan would be adopted in its current form or that the emerging strategy will be found sound… The Council informed me that the emerging LP is not likely to be adopted until 2014 and accepts that at this stage it can only be given limited weight.

Moreover, many, if not all, of these allocated sites are subject to the same or similar housing/settlement policies as the appeal site. If the Council was to release these allocated sites now it would be tantamount to accepting that it did not have a five year supply of deliverable housing land. (p29-32)

And on the dissagregated approach

Under the Council’s disaggregated approach, the appeal site would fall within the ‘Rest of East Devon’. As I have noted above, within this part of the district
the supply of deliverable sites is very much greater than five years. I understand this approach is aimed at reflecting the spatial strategy which directs growth to different parts of the district. However, no development plan or national policies advocate such an approach.
The Council informed me that, if permitted, it would be “very difficult” to say that the appeal scheme would slow down the delivery of housing at Cranbrook.
Therefore, even if a disaggregated approach was adopted, there is no cogent evidence to show any harm. (P36)

A distinction can be made between where a plan diassgreates between different housing market areas within a plan area, which is supported by the NPPF, and as here where it dissagreates between the big lump and the rest within the same housing market areas, as here, on which subject the NPPF is silent.  Pragmatically though there will be cases (historically derived from regional strategies but now from first principles and the evidence base) where the needs of big town X (cases aplenty  can only be met adjoining big town x and not 20-30 miles away at the far end of the adjoining district.  The reverse case to that envisaged by the inspector, where shortfall in delivery at big town X is used to justify release at little town Y could cause harm by spreading too much development to unsustainable locations.  The risk then is that LPAs have to go to ridiculous lengths – such as here gathering 25 years supply in a dissaggreated area, to make up the difference.

Ottery St. Mary includes a wide range of services and facilities, including a hospital, schools, public transport and employment/business premises. …There is no cogent evidence to demonstrate that the appeal scheme would have any harmful implications for the spatial strategy (P38)

Paragraph 49 of ‘the Framework’ states that housing applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing sites. Given my findings above on this matter, the location of the appeal site outside the LP built-up-area boundary for the town is not a sound basis for withholding permission. I note that a similar approach was taken in two linked appeals in Gloucestershire in July 2012 (Refs. APP/G1630/A/11/2146206 and 2148635). (P40)

When all of the above matters are weighed, there is a compelling case for releasing this site for housing and there are no adverse impacts that would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits of the scheme. Whilst my findings will disappoint many residents, the evidence leads me to conclude that permission should not be withheld. The appeal should therefore succeed. (P73)

The key (classic) tactical error here was to attempt to puff up the 5 year supply by inviting applications which is tantamount to saying there is not a 5 year supply.  If East Devon has admitted it did not have a 5 year supply, invited applications on favoured sites and then swiftly approved them it would not have had a problem.  The appellant would be arguing its case at the forthcoming local plan EIP instead as its application would have been approved as the current local plan would not have been ruled out of date.

JR Overturns Windfarm on Grounds that Decision Did Not reflect ‘Plan Led’ System – First ‘Degree of Consistency’ challenge

This is a real precedent , it seems a case where the Inspector simply used sloppy language- decision letter here.


Yesterday, Judge Mackie at London’s High Court ruled that the inspector failed to attach proper weight to policies in the council’s local development plan relating to protecting the landscape, heritage assets in the area and residential amenity.

The council is now seeking the judge’s confirmation of an order quashing the planning permission, and ordering the communities secretary, Eric Pickles, to have the matter reconsidered.

While acknowledging that the court should not readily interfere with an inspector’s decision, the judge said: “Nevertheless many people see their lives as being fundamentally affected by a decision to permit a large wind farm in their community. They are entitled to know whether the law has been followed by an Inspector whose decision is so crucial to them.”

He said that there was no doubt that the inspector identified the relevant development plan and “conscientiously weighed up the competing factors”.

However, he continued: “But as I read the decision she did not accord the development plan the priority required by law. At no point does she mention the priority due to the plan or express herself in terms that indicate that she is aware of the ‘plan led’ concept.”

“Recognising that I need to read the decision in a down to earth way as a whole and in context I detect no identification of the priority to be given to the plan. The exercise is a careful evaluation of competing considerations without any indication that the plan has priority.”

Brothertons Solicitors

I need to read the decision in a down to earth way as a whole and in context, I detect no identification of the priority to be given to the plan. The exercise is a careful evaluation of competing considerations without any indication that the plan has priority,’ the judge concluded.

This was not the only grounds for challenge – but this was the only one upheld.  South Northants had challenged on

“We believe that the Inspector did not follow the provision of the law when considering the balance between heritage and renewable energy, and failed to have ‘special regard’ for the desirability of preserving the listed buildings and conservation areas which the law requires. Instead only the provisions of the NPPF were applied.”

Which was dismissed

Broadview Energy

Broadview Energy has reacted with disappointment to news that planning permission has been quashed for the proposed Spring Farm Ridge wind farm, following a successful legal challenge in the High Court by a local resident and South Northamptonshire Council.

Planning permission was granted by the government’s Planning Inspectorate for the erection of five wind turbines on agricultural land between the villages of Helmdon, Greatworth and Sulgrave in July of 2012, after completion of a two week long public inquiry. Following the granting of planning permission, a legal challenge was launched by South Northamptonshire Council and a local resident claiming that the inspector’s decision was unlawful on five separate grounds.

A High Court hearing subsequently took place in December of last year and the ruling, which was announced today, quashed the planning permission.  It is important to note that the judge dismissed four of the five grounds in the challenges, specifically the impact assessments with respect to listed buildings, cultural heritage, noise and residential amenity.   However, the remaining challenge did succeed, as Judge Mackie concluded that the planning inspector’s decision letter did not meet planning law requirements. Despite the decision in the High Court, the Spring Farm Ridge site is a well designed wind farm in an excellent location and Broadview will look to the Planning Inspectorate to initiate the process of re-determining the planning appeal.

Jeffrey Corrigan, Managing Director of Broadview Energy said: “We are obviously disappointed the judge has found that the inspector did not follow what was required of her by law when issuing her decision. This is especially so following the completion of an extensive and thorough public inquiry which was the culmination of a number of years of work resulting in significant cost for all parties. It is important to recognise that the main substance of the inspector’s judgement as to the acceptability of the scheme was not called into question and we will therefore look to work closely with the government’s Planning Inspectorate regarding the next steps.”

The decision is interesting in that the local plan was adopted in 2007, i.e. prior to the 12 month 2004 deadline in the NPPF para 214. where existing plans are given full weight so

215. In other cases and following this 12-month period, due weight should be given to relevant policies in existing plans according to their degree of
consistency with this framework (the closer the policies in the plan to the policies in the Framework, the greater the weight that may be given).

And the plan has no policies at all on renewable energy.

However the decision letter completely omits the legal duties concerning the plan led system and to what extent national policy in the NPPF can overturn these – sadly sloppy.

On redetermination however I think it is almost certain to be approved.

Nick Bole’s ‘Housing the Next Generation’ Speech in Full

In of all paces the Rutland and Stamford Mercury

At the Conservative Party conference last October, David Cameron set a clear direction for Conservatives in government. He declared that the mission of the modern Conservative Party is “to build an “aspiration nation”, in which we “get behind people who want to get on in life.” “It’s what’s always made our hearts beat faster,” he said. “It’s not just an economic mission” – but “a moral one” too.

I listened to that speech as one of David Cameron’s newest and most junior ministers. And, though I found the Prime Minister’s message inspiring, implicit in it was a challenge that keeps me awake at night. No aspiration is more deeply embedded in the British psyche than the desire to own your own home. But the prospect of doing so has been slipping ever further out of the reach of millions of hard-working people. This is a result of our decades-long failure to build enough houses. And the root cause of this is our decades-long refusal to release enough land for development.

Of course, there are other problems affecting the housing market in the short term: most of all, the lack of finance for buyers and developers since the credit crunch. These the Government is already tackling. FirstBuy, which gives first time buyers an equity loan to reduce the deposit they need to find to just 5% of the price of their new home, will invest £460 million, matched by housebuilders, to help 27,000 people by 2014.

The NewBuy guarantee scheme enables other households to access 95% mortgages for new build homes, and the Prime Minister announced on Monday that we will bring forward further measures to increase the availability of affordable mortgages. Meanwhile, my colleague, Mark Prisk, is deploying the £570 million in the Get Britain Building fund to get building going on sites that already have planning permission, and a further £225 million fund to accelerate the delivery of housing on large sites like Cranbrook in Devon and Ebbsfleet in Kent.

But, in the long term, the original source of our housing crisis is the failure of past governments to provide enough land for development. As planning minister, it is my job to persuade local authorities to make more land available so that more homes can be built and the price of new homes comes down – and thereby reverse the trend that has been heading in the wrong direction for decades. Now can you understand why I sleep a little uneasily?

We should not underestimate the extent of Labour’s failure to build enough homes in their years in office. The 2011 census revealed that, in the Noughties, home ownership in England fell, for the first time in 60 years: from 68% to 63%. Why? Because houses became too expensive. The homelessness charity, Shelter, has shown that if the price of food had risen as fast as the price of housing in the last 30 years, a supermarket chicken would now cost £47 – and a jar of instant coffee would cost £20. In the 1990s, the average person setting aside 5% of their income each week could save up for a deposit on a house after 8 years. Today, it would take the same person 47 years.

Some say that this trend is inevitable, given a growing population, rising incomes and a finite supply of land. But in Germany real house prices have remained constant since 2000. And in the Netherlands, which has shared the UK’s rapid population growth, real house prices rose by a little bit more than a fifth in the same decade. So why did they nearly double in the UK?

The answer is simple. We’ve built too few houses to keep up with the rapid increase in the number of households needing a place to live, especially the dizzying increase in the number of people living on their own. There are several reasons for this growth in the number of households. Some we should celebrate – like the fact that people are living longer. Others we should regret – like the high rate of divorce or the fact that Labour’s support for unlimited immigration led to a net influx of 1.7 million people into England in a decade. But all of these changes have happened and all of the people concerned have the right to a decent home.

In 2008, Shelter estimated that we would need to build 240,000 new homes a year in England to cater for all of these new households. In February 2012, Alan Holmans from the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research updated these estimates using my department’s publication of new projections of the number of households. He concluded, that, to keep pace with this trend, we now need to build 270,000 new homes a year (leading to a net increase of 250,000 a year as 20,000 of them would replace existing homes that have to be demolished.)

I don’t know whether Mr Holman’s projections will prove accurate. But I do know that the house-building that took place during the Noughties fell woefully short of what was necessary. Despite a decade of easy credit and an explicit target to build 213,000 new homes a year in England, the last government only managed to complete an annual average of 147,000 new homes between 2000 and 2010. In the same period the population went up by 3.4 million and, from 1998 to 2008, the number of households went up by 1.7 million. On average, in each year of the Noughties, the Netherlands built over 4.4 new homes for every 1,000 inhabitants and the French built over 5.6. In England, we built just 2.9.

This is in spite of the fact that, between 2000 and 2010, total mortgage debt in the UK more than doubled – from £500 billion to £1,240 billion. Labour’s debt binge just fuelled a massive boom in prices – and did little to boost the supply of new homes. Those homes that were built got smaller and smaller, as land prices went up and up. From 2001-2003 the new houses we built in England were smaller than the ones we’ve already got – and 30% smaller than the new houses being built in the Netherlands, a country that is more densely populated than ours.

As in so many areas of our national life under Labour, for housing, the Noughties were a wasted decade. Loads of money sloshing around, lots of top-down targets, but very little to show for it. So now we need to build even more houses to make up the ground lost while they were in office – and to keep pace with future growth in the number of households needing homes. And that’s assuming that we continue to tighten our grip on immigration so that net migration falls below 100,000 a year by 2015.

I understand why the idea of a lot more house-building makes people nervous. And I certainly don’t want to see more open land developed than is absolutely necessary. But unfortunately there is no painless way to make homes affordable for working people earning ordinary wages.

“What about all the empty homes?” people ask. And they are certainly right to suggest that we should make full use of our existing housing stock. But most empty homes are only empty for short periods while they change hands or are renovated or are caught up in probate after the last owner’s death. There are around 259,000 houses that have been empty for more than 6 months, 50,000 fewer than in 2009. The government has already invested £160 million and that, together with a share of the £300 million additional spending announced in September’s Housing Growth Package, should help put over 15,000 empty properties back into use by 2015. Nobody wants to see good homes standing empty. But they can’t make more than a marginal contribution to the hundreds of thousands of new homes that we need.

“What about all the brownfield land?” people then ask – and they point to the CPRE’s estimate that England has enough brownfield land to support 1.5 million homes. We all want to maximise the number of homes we build on previously developed land – not least because such land tends to benefit from existing links to our road and rail networks. But even the CPRE admitted that we would only get 450,000 new homes out of brownfield sites in those parts of the country where most of the new homes are needed (London, the South East and the South West.) And achieving that number would require us to build on every scrap of brownfield land.

The fact is that we already are building most new homes on brownfield land: 76% of all the homes completed in 2010 as against 56% in 1997. We simply can’t squeeze much more out of brownfield sites. [???!!!???] To restrict new house-building to brownfield land would leave us a long way short of the number of new homes we need.

“What about the developers’ land banks?” people then ask. And I do understand why it riles people that their local councils have to find new sites for development, when the major house-builders are sitting on land with permission to build hundreds of thousands of new homes? But, this concern is also misplaced, resting on a misunderstanding about how the British house-building industry works.

At the end of September 2012, on sites of 10 or more units, there were 487,000 units with detailed planning permission. About 246,000 of them were on sites where building hasn’t even started – and the Growth and Infrastructure Bill going through Parliament will make it easier for developers to renegotiate the unaffordable Section 106 agreements that are have made many of these schemes unviable and caused them to stall.

About half of the units on sites with planning permission belong to schemes of 150 units or more which developers generally build out over 3-5 years. If we are going to have any prospect of getting our current house-builders to build the number of new homes we need, we need them to have a pipeline of sites representing 3-5 years’ supply. That’s over a million units. The problem with developers’ land banks is not that they exist – but that they are currently much too small to feed the level of house-building we need.

So I am afraid that we have a simple choice.

We can decide to ignore the misery of young families forced to grow up in tiny flats with no outside space. We can pass by on the other side while working men and women in their twenties and thirties have to live with their parents or share bedrooms with friends. We can turn a blind eye while Margaret Thatcher’s dream of a property-owning democracy shrivels. And shrug our shoulders as home ownership reverts to what it was in the 19th Century: a privilege, the exclusive preserve of people with large incomes or wealthy parents.

But I don’t believe that anyone really wants to go down this road. Certainly not any Conservative. If we believe in anything, we believe in the power of home ownership to motivate people to work hard, raise strong families and build healthy communities, to put down roots, take responsibility for their surroundings and look out for their neighbours. As David Cameron said, “We get behind people who want to get on in life, the young people who dream of their first pay-cheque, their first car, their first home – and are ready and willing to work hard to get those things.”

There is only one choice for a Conservative. To accept that we are going to have to build on previously undeveloped land. But, to resolve that we will make these decisions locally, and that we will build beautiful places like we used to. Like they’ve done in the last few years with strong local support on a greenfield site at Newhall in Harlow. That way England can remain the green and pleasant land we all love.

We start from a good position. Because, contrary to media myth, we’ve got plenty of undeveloped land to spare.

By overlaying satellite imagery onto Ordnance Survey maps, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology’s 2007 Land Cover Map shows that 8.9% of England is built up (or developed as gardens). That means that over 90% is not.

Our National Parks, Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty account for around 30% – more than three times the amount that is built on.

If we include the Green Belts that stop our cities sprawling without limit then in total around 40% of England is protected from development – more than four times the area that is built on.

Then there are ancient woodlands and other irreplaceable habitats which are protected by the National Planning Policy Framework, and other important sites which lie outside the official designations, but are rightly championed by organisations like the RSPB and the Woodland Trust.

There is high quality agricultural land which all of us want to see used for the essential purpose of growing food.

And there are much loved open spaces in villages and towns, which local people understandably want to keep intact.

Nothing that I have said and nothing that this Government has done will undermine the protection of National Parks, SSSIs, AONBs and the Green Belt. Or stop good agricultural land being used for farming. Or prevent councils from identifying ancient woodland and green spaces that local people want to protect.

And nothing that I have said and nothing that this Government has done involves telling communities how many new houses they should accept or where they should be built.[!!!!!!]

Labour’s housing targets caused enormous resentment and failed to deliver the goods – by the end of their time in office house-building had fallen to its lowest peacetime level since the 1920s [no post the Housing Green paper it was rising dramatically] . So we have already revoked the regional strategy for the East of England. And, having considered the responses to the consultation on the environmental report, I have decided to revoke the equivalent edict for Yorkshire and the Humber (while saving the policies to protect York’s Green Belt.) I will be making decisions about the other regional strategies in due course, once the consultations on the other environmental reports have closed.

But the localism that Eric Pickles has unleashed is not a one-way street. As he has always said, with power comes responsibility. The National Planning Policy Framework spells it out very clearly. As they draw up their local plans, councils must assess their local housing need in an objective way. And they must identify immediately developable sites sufficient to supply all of the new homes that are needed over the next 5 years.

Many councils are embracing this duty with energy and imagination. But some are dragging their feet. And a few are looking for ways to evade their responsibilities – or slough them off onto their neighbours because the politics of house-building is too difficult. That is not acceptable. Councils which do not produce credible plans to meet local housing need will find that the presumption in favour of sustainable development will trump local decisions. And they will have to explain to local residents why their failure to produce a robust local plan exposed their communities to speculative development in places where it is not welcome. I will not defend and the Government will not support those local councils who abdicate their responsibility to meet their fair share of our common housing needs.

I am not going to pretend that it will be easy for them. Councillors will have to find a way to persuade the people who elect them that substantial further house-building is in the interest of the whole community, including those who are living there now.

But we are giving them the tools they need to go about this. The first thing that people want is input into the plans for development in their neighbourhood. And not just perfunctory consultation that is acknowledged but then ignored. But real involvement and a vote on the outcome. So that’s why we’ve created the option of a neighbourhood plan, which is drawn up by representatives of a defined community and subject to a referendum of all their neighbours, before it can be finally adopted and form part of the statutory plan. 300 localities are already pursuing a neighbourhood plan – from Thame in South Oxfordshire to St James’ ward in central Exeter and central Milton Keynes. The trailblazer is Upper Eden in Cumbria. Their neighbourhood plan will be the first to be put to the test in a local referendum in March of this year.

The second thing people want is a share in the benefits that new development can bring, whether that takes the form of a boost in the local authority’s tax revenues or an investment in new community facilities or better infrastructure. So that’s why we’ve introduced the New Homes Bonus that gives local councils over £8,000 over 6 years for every new Council Tax Band D home that gets built. Councils received £430 million in New Homes Bonus in 2012-13 and are provisionally set to receive £660 million in 2013-14.

But we need incentives that are even more local – so that the people who have to live with new housing developments get a direct benefit from them. So today I am pleased to be able to announce that in areas that charge the new Community Infrastructure Levy neighbourhoods which accept new development will get 15% of the revenues from the Levy .

And because I believe that neighbourhood plans are the key to unlocking more house-building, [has the minister got the tiniest iota of a shred of evidence that the 300 neighbourhood plans have added any extra units net] those communities that draw up a neighbourhood plan and have it approved by local people in a referendum will receive 25% of these revenues with no upper limit. If you want to re-roof your village hall, build a permanent home for your community shop, refurbish the municipal swimming pool, implement a new landscape design in your local park or save your local pub, look no further. Jump on the bandwagon and get yourself a neighbourhood plan.

This government believes in localism. We believe that if you give people power, they will use it responsibly. If you explain to them what their community and their country needs, they will do their bit to make sure it is provided. And if you give them a stake in a future in which beautifully designed homes with easy access to green space are, once again affordable for working people on ordinary wages, they will do what it takes to bring that future about.

From my perch on the lower branches at the Department for Communities and Local Government, I look around the Great Wood that is the British government and I see other ministers battering away at the barriers that hold people back with gusto and grit.

Iain Duncan Smith reforming the benefits system to ensure that work always pays.

Michael Gove giving schools control over their own destinies while ramping up the expectations of the standards that they will achieve for their students.

They are an inspiration and a goad. An inspiration because they are ministers who have identified a shocking injustice in the way our society works and are fearless in their determination to “spread the privilege” of a good education and a decent job.

A goad because we are more than half way through this Parliament, and it’s now up to me to make sure that our reformed planning system provides enough land to build the houses that England’s next generation so desperately needs.

When it does, I’m sure I will have no problem sleeping at nights.”


Andrew Adonis on the Growth and Infrastructure Bill

From his blog

This afternoon I am speaking for Labour on the so called Growth and Infrastructure Bill. Here is the gist:

The government seems to be re-defining the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). Given the outright attack on localism in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, DCLG may as well be re-named the Department against Communities and Local Government.

The Bill, which starts in the Lords today, is also misnamed. It has little to do with infrastructure and less to do with growth. David Cameron was right when he said “If you could legislate your way to growth, obviously we would. The truth is you can’t.” It is fanciful to call a hotchpotch of planning measures a growth bill and if it were an infrastructure bill you would expect the new infrastructure minister to be speaking in today’s debate (he is not).

Labour will be probing the government on three key planning issues:

  1. The suspension of local planning authorities. If a planning authority is deemed to be failing by the Secretary of State then planning responsibilities will be removed indefinitely. There is no evidence that such a suspension is necessary when last year saw a 10 year high of 87% of all applications approved. 400,000 homes have planning permission but are yet to be built – the problem does not lie with local planning authorities.
  2. The attack on Section 106 affordable housing agreements. These agreements assure mixed housing developments and, once again, there is no case that they should be discarded. There is no evidence that failure to agree s106 agreements is routinely holding back developments and the Local Government Association point out that “councils are already responding to changed economic circumstances by renegotiating s106 agreements voluntarily.”
  3. The re-defining of ‘nationally significant infrastructure’. Such projects are dealt with centrally by the Planning Inspectorate. This is important in a small number of cases but broadening the definition to include ‘business’ and ‘commercial’ projects without defining the scope of these categories runs the serious risk of completely bypassing local communities for projects that would never seriously be considered ‘nationally significant’.

There are also two environmental concerns:

  1. The threat of new communications infrastructure in national parks. The Bill is intended to facilitate the roll out of rural broadband but allows overhead cables and mobile phone masts to be placed in national parks without the consent of their relevant authorities. As the Campaign to Protect Rural England has pointed out, “The proposal that the key purpose of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – to conserve beauty – could be overridden in order to provide infrastructure… would establish a dangerous and wholly inappropriate precedent.”
  2. The risk of development on town and village greens. Under the proposals, after a ‘trigger event’ it would no longer be possible to register to get your village green protected.  One proposed trigger event is the submission of a planning application. As Hilary Benn puts it, this is Kafkaesque since the first that most people will hear of a threat to a green is when a planning application is published.

Worse, tacked on to the end of this planning bill is the alarming proposition that employee rights be traded for shares. In effect, the Bill implements the “fire at will” Beecroft proposals by the back door.

Other than the clause destroying employment rights and safeguards, the only discernible theme of the Growth and Infrastructure Bill is the weakening of the powers of democratically elected local authorities. This contradicts the excellent proposals for growth in the recent Heseltine report – which rightly emphasises the role of self-confident local authorities in driving local economic development – and flies in the face of “localism”.

How to Stop the St Albans Railfreight Facility

I don’t necessarily think the course of action below is a good thing, but if you want to stop this proposal here’s how.

Designate part of the site for housing.

Its a previously developed site and the new NPPF rules apply, providing the proposal does not have materially worse impact on the openness of the site it would not necessarily be inappropriate development.

If the value of the housing was greater than that in railfreight use then Herts CC as owners of the site would have a fiduciary duty to not sell to the Strategic Rail-freight developers.

As a by product it would also solve St Albans critical 5 year supply issue and provide breathing space to complete their local plan.

The only tactical weakness of then plan, the developers could ask for a holding direction to be placed on alternative schemes as it would block a ‘national’ infrastructure project.

Of course if the site were sold to a national housebuiilder with an uplift clause this would delay any railfreight scheme by many years as it would have to prised from their clammy hands by a CPO and who would do this with RDAs now abolished?