Monday, 16 December 2013

Forget carrots and sticks. LPAs need Planners.

Since coming into office this Government has adopted both carrot and stick approaches to improving the performance of LPAs.
 
The initial nudge was the inducement of a New Homes Bonus and the promise of a six year guarantee to provide investment in local services following the building of new homes.
 
More latterly LPAs have been operating under the threat of special measures and recently Blaby fell foul of this designation because of it's poor record of determining major planning applications within 13 weeks.
 
Local Plan coverage too remains poor and the recent National Infrastructure Plan revealed plans to consult on what could be described as the ultimate stick with which a Government could beat a LPA - a statutory requirement to put a local plan in place.
 
It is telling though that 87% of respondents to the recent DCS Planning Consultancy Survey agreed that a shortage of staff is a major constraint on timely decision-making.
 
LPAs need the ability to attract and retain the quality of staff necessary to determine planning applications and get Local Plans adopted. Less time would need to be dedicated to carrots, sticks, and easy soundbites if they did.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

The importance of safeguarding land

Of many misunderstood and misinterpreted concepts in planning, safeguarded land is perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted. If I had a pound for every time I have seen or read a letter from a local resident expressing dismay about 'the loss of land that is supposed to be safeguarded against development' I would have... well... a few pounds.
 
Nick Boles' comments on the subject in a recent Westminster Hall debate have served to pour mud into already muddy waters. To recap, Mr Boles said that:
 
There is nothing in the Localism Act 2011, in the NPPF or in any aspect of Government planning policy that requires someone to plan beyond 15 years. So, anybody who is suggesting that there is any requirement to safeguard land or wrap it up in wrapping paper and ribbons for the future development between 2030 and 2050 is getting it wrong. There is no reason for it and my hon. Friend can knock that suggestion straight back to wherever it came from.
 
This appears to contradict the role of safeguarded land in ensuring that when Green Belt boundaries are reviewed they do not need to be altered again at the end of a development plan period.
 
The NPPF makes clear (paragraph 85) that LPAs, where necessary, should identify in their plans areas of ‘safeguarded land’ between the urban area and the Green Belt in order to meet long-term development needs. Contrary to the poplar misconception, this is land that is not allocated for development at the present time, but is available for future development, usually following a further development plan review.
 
Given the importance of Green Belt boundaries to plan-making it would be helpful if Mr Boles could clarify his remarks and, perhaps, once he has done so, think of a better name for land that is safeguarded for future development... 






 



 



 


What is a relevant policy for the supply of housing?


The failure of a High Court challenge to the rejection of planning permission for a 1,400-home development at Coalville received some coverage last month, but most it (like this piece: http://www.planningresource.co.uk/article/1216286/developers-lose-legal-challenge-1400-home-leicestershire-scheme) missed the real significance of the decision.

Paragraph 49 of the NPPF 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.

It had been widely interpreted that relevant policies for the supply of housing included both those that supported housing, e.g. requirements and land allocations, and those that restricted housing, e.g. settlement boundaries and policies of restraint.

Mrs Justice Lang concludes though, at paragraph 47 of a written judgement, that:

The Claimants sought to argue that Policy E20 should have been treated as one of the "[r]elevant policies for the supply of housing" within the meaning of NPPF, paragraph 49 because the restriction on development potentially affects housing development. I do not consider that this is a correct interpretation of paragraph 49. Paragraph 49 is located in the section of the NPPF dedicated to housing and it refers to policies for "the supply of housing", of which there are many in local, regional and national plans. It was agreed that the housing policies in the Development Plan in this case, were out-of-date by virtue of paragraph 49 (see the DL, paragraph 22). However Policy E20 does not relate to the supply of housing, and therefore is not covered by paragraph 49. I was shown numerous Inspector’s decisions in which paragraph 49 had been applied but these were distinguishable from this case because the policies related specifically to housing. There were a couple of exceptions, but insofar as Inspectors have applied paragraph 49 to policies which did not relate to housing, I respectfully suggest that they did so in error. In my view the implementation provisions in Annex 1 govern policies which are not specifically related to housing, not paragraph 49.

This judgement, which is understood will not be challenged, means that the absence of a five-year supply does not immediately render policies of restraint out-of-date. The practical implication is that when considering the planning merits of applications where there is no five-year supply the starting point has now to be that polices of restraint continue to have weight unless other changes in circumstances or material considerations other than five-year land supply may render them out-of-date.



 

Friday, 8 November 2013

The Beatles, Soundness & Cheshire East

 
“I get by with a little help from my friends” sang The Beatles, which came to mind when contemplating the task of a LPA attempting to steer a Local Plan through an ocean of competing interests towards the island of soundness.
 
Two of the tests of soundness that a development plan is subjected to during examination are whether it is justified (the most appropriate strategy, when considered against the reasonable alternatives, based on proportionate evidence) and effective (the plan should be deliverable over its period).
 
Reasonable alternatives will include, firstly, the quantum of development directed to a particular settlement over the plan period (e.g. How much to this town? How much to that town) and, secondly, the best locations within those settlements to accommodate that development (e.g. How much to the north of the town? How much to the south?).
 
For every site that a LPA seeks to allocate and every landowner that stands to benefit from the process, there is likely to be at least one other site that will not be allocated and another landowner that will not benefit. The latter party is less likely to be aggrieved though, and therefore less likely to strongly object at an examination, if the preferred site is clearly better and clearly the result of robust selection process. Given the need for the plan (and therefore the sites allocated within it) to be deliverable, it is vital for an LPA to be able to count on the promoters of it’s preferred sites to support it’s position and assure an Inspector that they can and will be brought forward within the plan period.
 
By way of an example, let us return to the perfect storm brewing around the Cheshire East Local Plan. A Pre-Submission Draft has been published for consultation that includes a delivery  rate from strategic sites that a planning inspector recently called in question. In coming to this conclusion the inspector highlighted issues of evidence base and infrastructure requirements, both of which are material to the assessment of soundness. The inspector did not subject the strategic sites to a forensic analysis, but any such analysis would highlight that at least three strategic sites or broad areas for growth (the North and South Cheshire Growth Villages and the area north of Congleton that are cumulatively expected to deliver 3,500 homes by 2030) appear to be no further advanced than a red line on a location plan. For the Local Plan to be found sound it will require the owners of these areas to support the Council (itself the owner of the North Cheshire Growth Village) in demonstrating that the proposals are based upon both a credible site-selection process and that plans are in place for these homes to be delivered. The absence of such credibility will certainly be brought to the Council’s attention by those with non-preferred sites.

Given the above, it is perhaps possible to hypothesise that the soundness of a plan can by gauged at Pre-Submission stage by weighing the strength of feeling for and against it. It is inevitable that there some communities and some landowners will feel aggrieved, but when more parties are lining up to appear at an examination to object to a plan than support it, the alarm bells within the LPA and within the Planning Inspectorate should be beginning to ring. In the case of Cheshire East and the housing supply issues identified recently another Beatles song comes to mind… ‘Fixing A Hole’.

 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Cheshire East Local Plan - A Perfect Storm

As one storm abates another continues to brew. The perfect storm that is the Cheshire East Local Plan will develop further this week as a Portfolio Meeting is set to review a final Draft Pre-Submission Local Plan document and approve a 6 week consultation that would start on 5 November.
 
In most circumstances progress by a LPA towards the adoption of a development plan would be heralded as a positive step, but circumstances at Cheshire East are, whilst not far from typical, certainly unique and the review of the final Draft Pre-Submission Local Plan will come only two weeks after the Secretary of State revealed in that he is “not persuaded that the updated SHLAA provides a robust assessment of 5 year land supply."
 
The Cheshire East storm has been brewing for some time, but the clouds really began to darken when a SHLAA update was produced in February in advance of the expiration of the NPPF transitional arrangements. It is fair to say that eyebrows were raised when land supply across the Borough was increased overnight to 7.15 years, and the significance of the recent appeal decisions are that they were the first to test the robustness of this figure.
 
Paragraph 49 of the NPPF states that “housing applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development” and that “relevant policies for the supply of housing should not be considered up-to-date if the LPA cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites.”
 
Under the transitional arrangements set out when the NPPF was published in March 2012, LPAs with local plans adopted since 2004 were able to give "full weight" to relevant policies "even if there is a limited degree of conflict" for twelve months. Having accepted during appeal inquiries like that at Loachbrook Farm, Congleton that supply was only 3.94 years, one can imagine senior figures at the Council being keen to put a 5 year supply in place so that applications could be refused by continuing to attach some weight to the old Local Plan policies.
In the Congleton Road, Sandbach decision the Secretary of State confirms that:
  • There is a housing requirement, including backlog and buffer of some 9000 dwellings over 5 years or 1800 per annum;
  • There is currently a demonstrable supply, taking a generous approach to Council estimates, which is likely to be in the region of 7000 to 7500 dwellings at most; and
  • The demonstrable supply therefore equates to a figure in the region of 3.9 to 4.1 years.
This has long term implications in that the SHLAA is critical to the demonstration of a sound development plan, but short term implications too in that all of the old housing policies, both policies promoting and restricting development, are out of date and that all applications have to be assessed against the NPPF, which includes the need to boost housing supply.
 
So what next? A swift review of the implications of the recent decisions? Acceptance of fundamental flaws in the calculation and provision of a five year housing supply?

Well the report being presented to the Portfolio Meeting suggests that, like a holidaymaker at a British seaside resort, the Council is hammering in it’s windbreak as the clouds roll in. It does not accept the Secretary of State’s conclusions that historic undersupply should be addressed in the short term and that a 20% buffer should be applied. It also states that 9,771 dwellings that are expected to be deliverable within the first 5-year period of the plan, contradicting too the Secretary of State’s view that too large a proportion of identified supply is on strategic sites that are unlikely to come forward as quickly as the Council contends.
 
The Portfolio Meeting report also considers whether the current ‘Green Gap’ around Crewe is "sufficient to stem the slow erosion of openness between the town and Nantwich". As a result, the report states that  the Pre-Submission Core Strategy will include an extension to the North Staffordshire Green Belt to include the area between the two. 
 
However, the reports being presented to the Strategic Planning Board next Wednesday (6 November) state that "unless or until these (appeal) decisions are challenged or a new SHLAA prepared, the Council is unable to conclusively demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable housing land". This is an accompanied by an acknowledgement that current policies  NE.2 (Open Countryside) and NE.4 (Green Gap) are out of date, which is used as justification to recommend approval for new homes at Willaston in the same area that the Pre-Submission Core Strategy is to identify as new Green Belt . Has the holidaymaker recognised the need to retreat to a beachside cafĂ© to make alternative plans?
 
In these circumstances, and given the inconsistency between these two positions, does then consultation on a final Draft Pre-Submission Local Plan represent progress towards the adoption of a development plan? Whilst it could and will no doubt be portrayed as such by senior figures at the Council, the current version of the SHLAA, part of the foundation for a sound development plan, has been acknowledged not to be robust enough for use for development control purposes and a revised SHLAA, and one would imagine a fundamentally different approach to short and long term housing supply, is to be prepared.
 
In order to address effectively the issues raised by the Secretary of State the final Draft Pre-Submission Local Plan should differ considerably from the Submission Local Plan and so consultation on a final Draft Pre-Submission Local Plan document might ultimately been seen as a step backwards rather than a step forwards.

Cheshire East may have escaped unscathed from St. Jude, but the perfect planning storm continues to brew…

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Cheshire East set to approve final draft Pre-Submission Local Plan


Cheshire East Council has confirmed that a Portfolio Meeting on the 1 November will review the final Draft Pre-Submission Local Plan document and approve a 6 week consultation that would start on 5 November.
 
The agenda and papers will be available via this link in due course.
 
The meeting will come only two weeks after the Secretary of State revealed that he is not persuaded that the updated SHLAA, upon which housing supply policies in the Plan will be based, provides a robust assessment of 5 year land supply...

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Cheshire East's statement on recent appeal decisions

Cheshire East Council released the following statement yesterday in response to the recent appeal decisions. 
 
STATEMENT: Abbey Road, Congleton Road and Sandbach Road North Planning Appeals
 
Council Leader Councillor Michael Jones said: “We are content to win the planning appeal in respect of Sandbach Road North and are determined to protect the Cheshire’s countryside and this decision goes to prove the value of the ‘countryside argument‘.
 
“However, we are disappointed that the Secretary of State and the Planning Inspector have seen fit to turn down two other appeals (Abbey Road and Congleton Road). We put up a strong defence of our decision to refuse these planning applications.
 
“The Planning Inspector agreed that we had met the housing requirement of 5,750 homes. But because of the recession and the stall on house building this figure has now inflated to 9,000 homes over five years. This is a relatively new target.
 
“The pressure of this target means it could encourages more speculative planning applications, affecting our countryside compared with more sustainable development.
 
“Friday’s decisions by the Secretary of State do not help Cheshire East in its fight against unplanned, speculative developments. Cheshire East Council believes in sustainable development for the beautiful borough of Cheshire East.
 
“We believe these decisions to allow hundreds of homes in Sandbach and Congleton to be built is the wrong decision for Cheshire East and we will now be exploring all our possible options in order to reconsider our position and carefully choose our next steps.
 
“Cheshire East Council is committed to defending the rights of our residents, especially where we believe developments impact negatively upon people’s lives.”
 
It is interesting to note the reference to 9,000 homes being a relatively new target. The 5,750 figure derives from the former North West Regional Spatial Strategy (published in September 2008) and is the composite annual requirement for the three former boroughs that now comprise Cheshire East. The additional requirement is principally derived from:
  • An undersupply against that target since 2003 (the start of the RSS period), which was identified at the Congleton Road Inquiry in July as being 1,266 for the period 2003-2012; and
  • A requirement in the NPPF (published in March 2012) for a 20% buffer to reflect persistent undersupply.
The most recent SHLAA was published in February 2013 and so it is reasonable to suggest that the Council itself should have recognised the need to address the historic undersupply rather than wait to have it pointed out by an Inspector. The one element of the requirement that could be said to be relatively new is the 500 figure identified at the Congleton Road Inquiry in July as being the undersupply for the period 2012-13.
 
 
It is stated that the Council is exploring all possible options, but, as I suggested yesterday, the only realistic option that I can see is the swift preparation of development plan that includes deliverable strategic sites.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Housing Land Supply & The Cheshire East Plan

Three appeal decisions have been published, which are the first to interrogate land supply in Cheshire East since the publication in February of the updated SHLAA. The three are:
 
Middlewich Road & Abbey Road, Sandbach;
 
 
Sandbach Road North, Alsager; and
 
 
Congleton Road, Sandbach
 
 
The fact that two Inspectors have confirmed that the Council does not have a five year land supply will come as little surprise to those who expressed a degree of sceptism about the 7.1 year figure included in the SHLAA. The decisions come though at a critical point in the local plan process and so the implications are of major significance to planning and development in the Borough.

The housing requirement is currently 5750 for five years, based upon the old Regional Spatial Strategy figures (although it should be noted that the Council’s emerging housing requirement is higher than that of the former RSS). There is a backlog since 2003 of around 1750 dwellings, so a total requirement of 7500.

The two crucial questions are whether to apply a 5% or 20% buffer (as per paragraph 47 of the NPPF), and how long it should take to address the backlog. The Sedgefield approach is to backlogs is to deal with in the short term, i.e. over five years. The Liverpool approach is to deal with over the longer term, which is usually interpreted as over the plan period.
 
The Council tried to argue that a 5% buffer would be appropriate and that the backlog should be dealt with over a nine year period. This gives a requirement of around 7000.
 
The Inspector upheld the appellants’ arguments that a 20% buffer is appropriate and that the backlog should be dealt with over the five year period.

It was agreed at the Congleton Road Inquiry that the housing requirement has not been met for a number of years and, given the NPPF requirement to "boost significantly the supply of housing” (paragraph 47), the Congleton Road decision notes that that aim "would not be best served by being too relaxed about the need to recover the backlog". This gives the requirement of 9000.

On the supply front, the Council’s position is that it is 9367, with a 4000 contribution from proposed strategic sites. In HIMOR's Gresty Oaks submission an allowance of 1000 from strategic sites was proposed within a supply of 5500. The Congleton Road decision provides for an allowance of 3000 within a supply of 7000-7500..
 
So is there grounds, as the Leader of the Council has indicated, to continue to claim a 7000 requirement? The NPPF does not express a preference for either the Sedgefield or Liverpool methods, but a 20% buffer and the Sedgefield approach to backlogs is now pretty typical in cases like Cheshire East where there has been historic undersupply. Even if this point could be argued, the second question is whether the 7000 supply calculation is legitimate. The Congleton Road decision deliberately affords the Council ‘leeway’ here and does not subject each strategic site to the kind of ‘forensic’ analysis that HIMOR undertook as part of the Gresty Oaks submission.

In my humble opinion, if the current plan, based upon a SHLAA that two Inspectors have interrogated, is submitted for examination I can see no conclusion on five year supply different from those reached in these decisions. I am not a lawyer, but if I were a Cheshire East Council Tax-payer I would see little merit in Cllr Jones’ suggested legal challenge because, as is stated in the Congleton Road decision, 'the assessment of land supply is not an exact science' and it is hard to see how these decisions are illegal, irrational or procedurally improper, which are the accepted grounds for challenge. Even in the event though that the requirement was judged to be 7000 the current supply is unlikely to stand up to detailed scrutiny.
 
Importantly, either the submission of an unsound plan or a judicial review of these decisions would extend the current policy vacuum and so the only realistic option that I can see for the Council is the swift preparation of development plan that includes deliverable strategic sites.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Planning for the future

David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, featured in an Inside Housing article recently in which he suggested that councillors are "deeply conflicted when balancing planning responsibilities and re-election strategy."
 
This is the piece:
 
 
In a blog post today Mr Orr continues the theme, stating that "where we need creative local leadership, we get cautious self-interest."
 
This is the blog:
 
 
I wholeheartedly agree that problems with planning are not, at root, systemic and welcome the light that he is trying to shine on the operation of the current system.
 
The suggestion, noting the conflict between planning responsibilities and re-election strategy, is for elected representatives to define a plan to be implemented by senior officials through the determination of major applications.
 
I might respectfully suggest here that Mr Orr underestimates the political nature of land allocation, which is no less contentious than the determination of planning applications themselves. The failure of so many LPAs to get development plans is down in no small part, I would contend, to the ability of councillors to kick controversial policy documents down the road. 
 
I disagree with Mr Orr though that planning is not a first order issue when discussing the housing crisis. I would add the availability of land for housing to issues associated with the economy, affordable housing funding and local attitudes to development. Through the absence of development plans, and the time taken to determine applications, the planning system does not deliver sufficient land for development. As stated though, the system itself does not need fundamental change. It needs better councillors and better officers taking better decisions. 
 
How to attract better councillors? A question for a different blog, but councillors might be encouraged to take better decisions if all councils operated on an 'all in, all out' basis. Local elections in three of every four years are not conducive to political stability.
 
How to attract better planners? Also a question for a different blog, but Mr Orr asks where planners have the opportunity to set out a great vision? The answer to that question is, for the very most part, unfortunately not within a LPA.
 
In my humble opinion (and I will perhaps attempt to answer the questions I have posed myself if I get another spare half an hour...)  the current planning system affords the opportunity for planners to do great things. It is the system of local government within which planning operates that doesn't. Until next time...

Monday, 7 October 2013

Nick Boles to be shuffled?

Nick Boles told a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference last week that being planning minister was a 'wonderful job' (http://www.planningresource.co.uk/news/login/1214541/), but reports in the Telegraph suggest that he is tiring of battles with campaigners (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/conservative/10356601/Tory-women-set-for-promotion-in-David-Camerons-second-reshuffle-next-week.html?utm_content=buffer880e4&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer).

With a reshuffle expected today I for one hope that Mr Boles does not move to another brief because he is in my humble opinion the best planning minister in recent memory.

 
 
 
 

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Matthew McConaughey on Planning

Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past is a terrible, terrible film, but one that, following the 'my turn, your turn' principle, I have had to sit through with Mrs Stafford (a little tip: it gets less terrible with every additional glass of wine...).
 
What relevance though does this have to a blog on town planning?
 
Well my recent frustrations bring to mind the only memorable line in the film, which is from the principal protagonist played by Matthew McConaughey.
 
The power in all relationships lies with whoever cares less.
 
The character wasn't speaking about the UK planning system, but unfortunately he could have been.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

A target by any other name is still a target.

“This government is committed to localism and greater local decision-making in planning. The flawed top-down targets of regional planning, centrally imposing development upon communities, built nothing but resentment. They will hang over communities no more."
 
Planners would not need three guesses to attribute that quote to Eric Pickles, speaking earlier this year as the last of the Regional Spatial Strategies was abolished.
 
What though is the practical difference to a local community of a Borough-wide housing target 'imposed' by a former regional assembly, and the Planning Inspectorate raising concerns about the soundness of a local plan because of a failure to address full and objectively assessed housing need?   
 
The difference to the layperson is negligible because in both scenarios their Council's housing requirement is ultimately set by an 'unelected and unaccountable quangocrat' telling a LPA what it's annual requirement should be.
 
There was welcome clarity from Nick Boles yesterday, who told the Conservative Party Conference that it is the role of national government to insist that local authorities are meeting their housing needs. This, in practice, is what is already happening and will continue to happen through the local plan examination process, and so it is this message that needs communicating to communities by politicians at all levels and of all hues, not the continued promise of control at local level.
 
The real control at local level is over where development occurs, not at what level development occurs, and if the expectation of local communities could be better managed, in tandem with better opportunities to engage in neighbourhood planning, then the easier it would be for all concerned to get local plans adopted.


 

 

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Cheshire East Local Plan - The Cart & The Horse (Continued)

Further to my piece on the Cheshire East Local Plan, this appears on Place North West today:

http://www.placenorthwest.co.uk/news/archive/14411-cheshire-east-urged-to-reconsider-green-belt-strategy.html

Jonathan Vose at Walsingham Planning would also appear to have concerns about the evidence base underpinning the Council's proposed development strategy. 

"The proposals in Handforth are particularly interesting, in planning terms, given that a very large scale of development is proposed wholly within the green belt, without the council first having published a formal assessment of its green belt, or the quality and openness value of sites within it."

Land Banking - Myths & Misconceptions

Here we go again. Ed Miliband will warn again today of the evils of land banking. “Across our country”, he cautioned in June, “there are landowners with planning permission, sitting on land, waiting for it to accumulate in value and not building on it”.
 
Developers who sit on land banks, he will apparently say today, will be hit by a “use it or lose it” law and Councils will be given the right to impose escalating fees backed up by new compulsory purchase powers.
 
The same call has been made by Boris Johnson, who has criticised “pernicious land banking” for being “against London’s economic interests”.
 
Are these cross-party warnings evidence of a legitimate issue or do they reflect a soft and misunderstood target that fills speeches and generates headlines?
 
For the sake of this blog let us assume that applicants for planning permission break down into three categories: the private landowner (let’s say a farmer), the volume PLC housebuilder, and the land investment company. Let us also assume that securing the principle of development through an allocation in the local plan costs, say, £50,000, and that a planning permission for a development that might make a significant contribution to a Borough’s housing requirement, say 250 homes, costs £200,000.
 
A private landowner who had spent £250,000 promoting my land through a development plan and securing an outline planning permission would, I would be suggest, be keen to sell that land to a housebuilder and go on holiday with the proceeds as soon as possible. 
 
The housebuilder, who is more risk averse than, say, 5-10 years ago because of the financial control being exerted by shareholders and funders, is less likely in the current climate to fund promotion through the planning system and more likely instead to pay a premium for a site with a planning permission. Having paid for the site, including that premium for it being ‘risk-free’, the housebuilder would be looking to minimise as much as possible the time between outlay and return.
 
There is a role for the third party, the land investment company, because the promotion of land through the planning system is often prohibitively expensive for private landowners and prohibitively risky for housebuilders. A land investment company will promote land on behalf of another party and share in the uplift in value when that land is sold for development. Having invested, let’s say, £250,000 to secure a promotion, though, that company will also be keen to secure a return as soon as possible.
 
In a continued climate of low housing completions, the claim that development land is being hoarded unnecessarily as landowners wait for values to increase is an easy one for politicians to make. It ignores though the need for a return on investment and assumes at the same time that values will rise sufficiently to compensate for holding costs. House prices in the North West, for example, the key driver of land value, remain well below the 2007 peak and only modest year-on-year growth is predicted. This, in the regions at least, is the new normal.
 
Research from Savills suggests that, far from hoarding, the number of unbuilt plots with planning permissions held by the top eight housebuilders fell by around 100,000 between 2007 and 2012, as land buying slowed and existing stocks were built out. Relative to recovering build rates, the supply of land held by housebuilders is in fact falling. In 2009 the volume of permissions held by the top eight peaked at 7.5 years (based on prevailing build rates), as the rate of delivery slowed. In 2012, permissions declined to 5.3 years.
 
If a landowner with planning permission sits on that land and waits for it to accumulate in value then that landowner might reasonably be said to be landbanking. This is fundamentally different though to a housebuilder holding a sensible land supply to account for supply constraints and sites in weaker markets that become vulnerable to prevailing conditions.
 
Both Kate Barker’s 2004 report  (Delivering Stability: Securing Our Future Housing Needs) and the OFT’s 2008 report (Home Building In The UK - A Study) both found no evidence of housebuilders land banking. A better question then might be not what to do to reduce land banking, but what can be done to increase the housing supply pipeline. I have ignored the role of the public sector as a landowner here, but the accusation that “there are landowners with planning permission, sitting on land, waiting for it to accumulate in value and not building on it” must equally apply.
 
In this author’s humble opinion the housing supply pipeline will not increase for as long as it is too expensive for private landowners and too risky for housebuilders to promote land through the planning system. The attention of Messers Miliband, Johnson, et al would be better directed in this direction.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Does more approvals have to mean more conditions..?

The HBF has published it's latest Housing Pipeline report this morning.
 
 
The headlines are a 49% year-on-year increase in the number of planning approvals for new homes in England in the second quarter of 2013.
 
Whilst a fall on Q1, the figure still means there were 77,686 permissions granted in the first six months of the year, a 26% year-on-year increase.
 
The HBF also take the opportunity to warn though of overly onerous conditions that increase the time between a planning approval and work commencing on-site.
 
A high number of conditions is often an indication that details that might otherwise have been agreed during the application process have not been agreed. This might suit some applicants because often at attitude prevails that pre-application discussions can be abortive where the principle of development is not readily established. By the same token, a high number of conditions can be trade-off that applicants are willing to accept in exchange for an earlier approval.
 
Another reason for effectively postponing the approval of matters of details though is the resources available to LPAs, either internally or at statutory consultees. The absence, for example, of specialist ecological or conservation staff makes it more likely that discussions will have to continue with third parties.
 
Interestingly, the New Statesman has published an article in which policy makers offer solutions to the housing crisis.
 
 
All of the suggestions have merit, but the majority are at the level of national politics and policy making. Behind the concerns of the HBF about the use of conditions is the practical reality of development control (sorry, management...) planning. If LPAs had the time and resources to engage in meaningful pre-application discussions and to resolve issues at the pre-approval rather than the pre-development stage then not only would more approvals be forthcoming, but those approvals would better assist with getting houses coming out of the ground.


(Update. According to DCLG figures on Local Authority revenue expenditure and financing, planning and development services have seen the highest decrease in net current expenditure, 24.8%, in 2011/12.)

 

 

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Cheshire East Local Plan - The Cart & The Horse

Cheshire East's Strategic Planning Board will be told next week that the Green Belt Study being undertaken to support the emerging Local Plan is "soon-to-be-finalised".
 
 
One wonders then upon what basis the Leader of Council, Michael Jones, was able to tell the BBC's North West Tonight programme this week that the Green Belt land proposed for the North Cheshire Growth Village east of Handforth was of "low quality"?
 
To be considered 'sound' the NPPF requires a Local Plan to be 'justified', which is defined as being "the most appropriate strategy, when considered against the reasonable alternatives, based on proportionate evidence."
 
A LPA's evidence base will obviously evolve in parallel to the evolution of the local plan process, and it may well be that the Green Belt Study supports the assertion that the North Cheshire Growth Village is the most appropriate strategy when considered against reasonable alternatives, but by not undertaking such a key plank of the evidence base earlier in the process the Council must be vulnerable to the accusation that a cart is being put before a horse.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, 1 February 2013

Review of last night's 'The Planners'.

There's a great line in this review of last night's first episode of The Planners by Tom Sutcliffe in The Independent:
 
"...The Planners isn't dull, since it's about the hysterical emotions aroused in the average Briton by the prospect of any encroachment on their property rights".
 
It's worth a read...
 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Planning and Value.

I was confronted with a sobering thought last night whilst speaking with the planning officer who will deal with one of our imminent applications. I had met with his ecology and conservation officers colleagues last summer as we embarked upon a masterplanning process and I put it to the officer that we had never actually received any feedback on our proposition. "You won't do now", came the response. "They've both got the boot".
 
This is sobering for two reasons. Firstly, of course, one feels for the officers who have lost their jobs. Secondly, though, it is sobering to think that a large Metropolitan Borough has no ecological or conservation resource.
 
The project that we are working has at it's heart a feature of ecological and heritage value and there is an opportunity to enhance this value as part of our proposition. We are working to identify all of the parties (public, private and voluntary) who might help with realising this potential, but if maximum benefit from this proect is to be taken, and more importantly sustained, it will need to be led by the Borough Council.
 
The Council in question will no doubt be committing funds at a strategic level to projects of ecological and heritage value, but it seems short-sighted not to recognise the role of planning in tying different strategic themes together and having people in place to actually get things done.
 
I suppose though that the benefits of projects like ours are largely is intangible, whereas the cost of those two officers is all to easy to calculate.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

How committed is Cheshire East Council to it's Development Plan?

I highlighted in a tweet recently that Cheshire East Council, £132.3m in debt, owns or part owns seven of the strategic sites identified in it's Draft Development Strategy, including the proposed new settlement at East Handforth.

The Council has stated that as part of a wider approach to developing the economy it will directly promote employment and housing growth through the development of Council assets and land. This approach is logically enough given the Council's financial plight, but it is important that those Council assets and land are identified through the development plan process as being the most appropriate sites for development relative to other options.

It's interesting to see, therefore, that the Council is seeking a Development Executive to become Chief Executive designate of wholly Council-owned company that will be established to deliver "a number of strategic sites as well as two brand new settlements".

http://www.placenorthwest.co.uk/news/archive/12867-job-development-executive-cheshire-east-council.html

When confirming recently that Cheshire East Council is to take legal action to try to overturn the granting at appeal of planning permission for 200 homes on the outskirts of Congleton, Council Leader Michael Jones stated that:

"...we need to ensure developments are planned properly after listening to local people – and that they reinforce, rather than undermine, our Local Plan, based on a vision that we can all agree".

Councillor Jones clearly expects the development community to respect the development plan process, but I wonder whether the development community can expect the same of the Council?