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’.