Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Local people and the delivery of new homes

Writing for the Conservative Home website yesterday (15 December), Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis stated that..

"... it was clear that to really solve these problems we needed a new level of thinking, which challenged the prevailing orthodoxy of top-down bureaucratic control. That new principle was localism: ensuring that local authorities, and local people, have more control over the delivery of new homes in their area."

Deliciously, only a day later, a recovered appeal decision from Secretary of State Eric Pickles in Rolleston on Dove illustrates both what can happen when communities have more control over the delivery of new homes, and what can happen when politicians like Mr Lewis and Mr Pickles, who are tasked with 'significantly boosting the supply of housing', have to intervene in marginal constituencies in the run up to a general election.
The context:

The site in Rolleston on Dove is a housing allocation in the draft local plan and there is no five year supply of deliverable housing land.

A neighbourhood plan was drafted that made provision for two allocations of only 11 houses each (in a top tier settlement of 3,000 people), and sought a local green space allocation on the site in question.
The neighbourhood plan examiner removed the local green space designation on the site and made clear the neighbourhood plan allocations should not be seen as a ceiling, but the neighbourhood plan has not proceeded to referendum.

A planning application for 100 homes was submitted, refused, and an appeal inspector recommended approval.

...and Mr Pickles' decision:

“In view of the Framework policy (paragraphs 183-185) that neighbourhood plans will be able to shape and direct sustainable development, and having had full regard to paragraph 216 of the Framework, the Secretary of State places very substantial negative weight on the potential prejudicial effect on the outcome of the plan-making process…Though the strategic allocation of the site in the emerging Local plan is not included in the NP, the Independent Examiner found that with his suggested modifications the NP would meet the statutory requirements.”

What is particularly striking here is that unlike appeals in Broughton Astley and Hurstpierpoint that have been refused this is a neighbourhood plan that makes virtually no provision for new housing. If that is what the good burghers of Rolleston on Dove want then good luck to them. In the absence of either a local plan that directs a more proportionate amount of development to a top tier settlement, or a requirement for the neighbourhood plan to show that it is meeting the settlements future housing needs, then there is not much that the development community, the Borough Council or the Planning Inspectorate can do to stop them.

Two points of note though. Firstly, it reinforces the argument that local control means no development rather than more development. Secondly, it highlights that whilst Rolleston on Dove might have chosen not to accommodate any of East Staffordshire's future housing requirement, that housing growth has not and will not go away. It will have to be accommodated somewhere, but will East Staffordshire get it's local plan in place before the next drawbridge goes up?

Saturday, 29 November 2014

How to solve the housing crisis

How to solve the problem of more new households than new houses?

Sir Michael Lyons' report of his independent review of housing for the Labour Party makes 39 considered and sound enough recommendations.

Planning Minister Brandon Lewis has summarised the Government's "wide range of measures" as including neighbourhood planning ('putting power back in the hands of local communities'), investment in the Affordable Homes programme, and the stimulation of demand (like 'Help to Buy').

Shadow Communities Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods has spoken of "tweaks" to the NPPF to reflect a 'brownfield first' policy (and also a common methodology for objective assessments of housing need), sentiments also expressed by Brandon Lewis in response to a recent CPRE report.

Whilst the Lyons' report mentions "housing as a priority for Government", regardless of who forms the next Government the smart money (I'd hesitate to say my money, but, you know...) should be on some light-touch tinkering rather than heavy-handed reform. Labour, who one might expect to be the most reformist, talk of a national spatial assessment, but that is not a national development plan. Labour talk too of a Strategic Housing Market Plan, but that is not regional (or sub-regional, or city-regional, or structure) plan. Nobody is talking about doing to planning law what the NPPF did to planning guidance.

Guess what though? That is alright because do we really want more heavy-handed reform? The Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012 mean that LPAs can prepare a single local plan rather than the ill-conceived two-stage Core Strategy and Allocations DPDs, which was arguably more significant to planning and plan-making than the NPPF. The NPPF itself was a successful consolidation that, with the Planning Practice Guidance, needs only time to bed in further.

In contemplating though how the planning system can deliver more homes, all of the suggested tweaks and all of the suggested tinkering boil down to two simple things. We need more land allocated in more development plans, and more planning applications approved more quickly. This, fundamentally, comes down to two more simple things: reducing public resistance to the allocation of land and the approval of planning applications, and having LPAs with the ability to put development plans in place and approve planning applications. If housing really is to be a priority for the next Government then it is in these two areas where attention being directed.

'How though, Sam?' I hear you cry. How can the Government reduce public resistance and strengthen LPAs. Well, in regard to the former, politicians could show real leadership and tell the public what they need to know about the need for greenfield sites and Green Belt review, rather than want they want to know. I have written on this topic before...

In relation to LPA resources, a report by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office has shown that Council planning and development services have been subjected to the deepest local government cuts between 2010 and 2015. I highlighted in this piece back in May that over 100 planning positions have been lost across the North West since 2010 and, at a time when development activity is increasing, this situation will only worsen. Tony Travers of the LSE predicts a further 57% reduction in spending by locals authorities on planning over the next five years.

The Lyons review again asserts (tinkers) that LPAs should be able to set planning fees locally on a full cost recovery basis, but this idea has been consulted upon by the current Government has not gone anywhere.

Most telling of all though is Lyons' suggestion that all LPAs be required to submit a local plan to PINS by December 2016. Compulsory local plans? Has it really come to this? For a LPA to have not submitted a plan since the 2004 Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act is evidence of either an absence of political will, or an absence of appropriate skills in the planning department. Both things that a Government of whatever hue could do something about it really wanted.

So. In conclusion. Tweaks and tinkering in planning are as inevitable as the political pendulum swinging first one way and then the other, but they will not result in any more new homes being built. For that to happen two things need to change things:the rhetoric and the resourcing.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Planning In The Thick Of It

We are in election season, which means that planning policies and pronouncements are more prone than usual to the pie charts of public opinion. It occurs to me, therefore, that planning is ripe for satirical send-up, so this blog, therefore, is meant for Armando Iannucci, who will hopefully at some point in the future consider a fifth series of The Thick Of It, the razor-sharp, foul-mouthed satire that pricks at the Westminster bubble.
If, and hopefully when, Mr Iannucci does contemplate that new series, he will hopefully stumble across this piece and my suggestion that Nicola Murray, the tragi-comic Minister whose sole ambition in politics is to avoid the ire of tyrannical spin-doctor Malcolm Tucker, finds her way from DoSAC to the new Department of Places and the Environment where she has accepted the crucial role of Planning Minister.
To assist Mr Iannucci yet further, I have also taken the liberty of sketching out a planning narrative for the series, around which political and personal plotlines can be based.
Episode 1.
In the warm glow of an election victory, Nicola Murray begins to formulate the policies that will deliver the manifesto commitments on housing and planning, which included a step-change in housing delivery, a faster, fairer planning system, support for self-builders, and a commitment to put communities at the heart of the decision-making.
Episode 2.
The publication of disappointing official statistics on housebuilding means an early morning call to Nicola from Malcolm, who reminds her of the Prime Minister’s own pre-election promise to ‘Get Britain Building. Nicola agrees to work with Treasury officials on a temporary policy to expedite the development of absolutely anything absolutely anywhere.
Episode 3.
The juxtaposition position between pledges to oversee both a step-change in delivery and a revolution in local-decision making is brought sharply in to focus for Nicola when a planning application is submitted for an urban extension to the market town in which her constituency office is located.
Episode 4.
Having attended a public exhibition about the urban extension, and heard about both the benefits of the scheme and the future affordability crisis in her home town being precipitated by the failure of the local authority to start reviewing it’s local plan, Nicola is minded to support the application until Malcolm advises her that her local association will refuse to match fund her pre-election leafleting campaign if she does.
Episode 5.
The need for Nicola to make a difficult decision on the urban extension is averted when a well-informed residents group (that includes a planning barrister that Malcolm went to University with) spots a flaw with the application's EIA process, forcing it be restarted. During the delay the residents group is able to prepare the first draft of a neighbourhood plan that includes the development of a smaller brownfield site within the town when the factory currently on it finally closes.
Episode 6.
With another general election on the horizon, more disappointing housebuilding statistics, and Malcolm calling for more manifesto commitments to the Green Belt, brownfield sites and community control, Nicola accepts an exciting role at the Department of Schools and Skills…
You keep the Bafta, Mr Iannucci. I'll settle for a co-writing credit...

Monday, 24 November 2014

As sure as night follows day, brownfield promotion follows Green Belt protection

Morecambe and Wise. Shearer and Sheringham. Green Belt and Brownfield. Partnerships that are famous because you cannot think of one without thinking of the other.

Having reinforced the Government's commitment to the Green Belt last month, it was perhaps inevitable that this month would see a similar commitment from Housing & Planning Minister Brandon Lewis to brownfield sites, the supply of which, as I heard recently, becomes more elastic the closer time gets to a general election. Sure enough, Mr Lewis lent his name to a CPRE press release about it's 'Wasted Space' campaign.

Labour too is keen to emphasise it's pre-election brownfield credentials, and I recently heard Shadow Minister Roberta Blackman-Woods reinforce a 'brownfield first' message that was first aired by Hilary Benn some time ago. 

Nobody would disagree that brownfield sites should be developed before greenfield ones, but this, unfortunately, is where the public pronouncements of our politicians stop because neither Mr Lewis or Dr Blackman-Woods will go on to highlight the simple fact that brownfield sites simply cannot deliver anything like the number of homes required to meet the national shortfall.

Tellingly, Michael Lyons, the man commissioned by the Labour Party to provide an independent review of housing policy, is not a big fan. His report states...

"...land being available for development does not necessarily mean that it can be built on or that it is in the right place to meet housing need. If the costs involved in purchasing the land, remediation and preparation, the costs of infrastructure and the construction of the homes outweigh the receipts from selling them, brownfield land will not be economically viable. Therefore undue emphasis on what can be achieved with brownfield alone is always likely to be an over simplistic response to the land supply question."

He goes on...

"The review is clear that the principle of brownfield first is right and should continue with a sequential test that ensures that such sites are considered first for new development, but the experiences of unintended consequences of national brownfield policies illustrate the importance of a more tailored approach which can respond to local circumstances and address the particular barriers to unlock development on stalled brownfield sites."

Mr Lyons states that tackling the housing crisis will require strong leadership. That means that Mr Lewis and Dr Blackman-Woods need to tell the public what  they need to know (and what I heard Mr Lyons tell Paul Miner of the CPRE at this year's TCPA conference), which is that brownfield sites are not enough and that greenfield sites (and in some areas Green Belt sites) will need to be developed. Getting local plans adopted and planning permissions approved will remain that bit more difficult than it needs to be until they do.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Housing the 'Northern Powerhouse'

If the general election of 2010 was about localism, the 2015 election promises to be about devolution. If it’s not on the lips of everybody then it’s certainly on the lips of the metropolitan, liberal elite that concerns itself with the future of regional governance. The Conservatives’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’; the five cities’ ‘One North’ plan; Nick Clegg’s ‘Northern Futures’ project; the City Growth Commission’s ‘Unleashing Metro Growth’ report; Labour’s plans for an English Regional Cabinet Committee; and David Higgins’ ‘Rebalancing Britain’ report, are all evidence of a devolution arms race.

"New transport and science and powerful city governance", said George Osborne.

"Better connections between people and jobs is crucial if we want to rebalance the national economy", said Keith Wakefield.

"The next phase in our drive to generate the best ideas for stronger local growth", said Nick Clegg.

'Granting more powers to cities should form an essential part of a new deal for the north', said Jim O'Neill.

"Labour has a radical plan for spreading power and prosperity across England’s city and county regions", said Ed Miliband.

"Improving connectivity is one key factor essential in addressing that gap by raising our productivity, and prosperity, as a country", said David Higgins.

Jobs and growth. Transport and infrastructure. Power and prosperity. There are constant themes here, but something is constantly missing as well, which is mention of the new homes to support the jobs and the growth and the transport and the infrastructure and the power and the prosperity.

'But hang on, Sam', I can hear you say. 'Hasn't Greater Manchester just published "an overarching plan within which the ten local authorities identify and make available land to deliver ambitious strategic priorities?"'. Well, yes, Reader, that is very true, but I am not sure that the word ambitious can legitimately be used to describe the proposed housing requirement.

'But hang on, Sam', I can also hear you say. 'Doesn't the 10,700 homes per annum included in the Spatial Framework represent 1,083 more homes per annum (or 11%) than the cumulative former RSS target?"'. Well, yes, Reader, that is also very true, but historic RSS targets have long-since been confirmed as obsolete in planning terms.

Here comes the science part. The NPPG clearly states that household projections should provide the starting point for housing need. Plan-makers may then consider sensitivity testing, specific to their local circumstances, based on alternative assumptions in relation to demographic projections and household formation rates, migration levels, job numbers and market signals (land prices, house prices, rents, affordability, rate of development and overcrowding).

The assessment of housing need in the Spatial Framework is based solely on the translation of the 2012 Sub-National Population Projection data into households and dwellings. That's it. There is no adjustment is to reflect demographic data, economic evidence or market signals. This despite evidence that supply across Greater Manchester has failed to keep pace with demand and that there are increased levels of over-crowding, rental values and affordability ratios.

In contrast to the narrow assessment of housing need, the consultation document does introduce a range of economic forecasts, but again, analysis of historic job growth, the ambitions of Greater Manchester and the pipeline of major development projects highlights that consideration should be given to more aspirational levels of job growth. Modelling undertaken by NLP indicates that to realise the level of job growth based on the Experian job growth figures (set out in Section 5) would require over 15,000 new homes per annum.

With pantomime season approaching I am going to attempt a tenuous metaphor. It looks as though jobs and growth, the ugly sisters, are going to the 'Devolution Ball', but poor housing looks like being left home alone. The suppression of requirements relative to the number of new jobs being targeted might be expected in more, let's just say, rural, authorities, like Cheshire East, where the priorities are perhaps more, let's just say, local, but the ambition for Manchester, as stated in the Greater Manchester Strategy, is for the city "to become one of the most successful cities in the world".

I would hazard a guess that the most successful cities in the world, if they do undertake any kind of spatial planning, do more than the bare minimum necessary to meet demographic needs. So, if the Spatial Framework is to be, as it could be, a once in a generation opportunity to drive real change, then there should be some genuinely ambitious targets behind the rhetoric.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The political posturing around Green Belts

In a Telegraph piece today (10 November) Redrow Chairman Steve Morgan bemoans the "political posturing ahead of next year's General Election (that) is already having a detrimental impact on the time taken to grant planning permissions in many parts of the country."

To what might Mr Morgan be referring to? Well last month ministers "underlined the government’s commitment to protect the green belt from development" with 'new' guidance and, predcitably enough, two Surrey councils have already shelved plans for a Green Belt review.
Practioners though are seeing through the smoke and mirrors. This is an extract from a piece by Stephen Ashworth at Dentons.

In substance, neither additional paragraph makes any real contribution to our understanding of the policy in the NPPF. However, the ministerial statements that introduce the additions to the NPPG have given the impression that green belt policy has been tightened and that greater favour is now being given to brownfield land. That is wrong. There is no change of policy. Ministers should stop pretending that that is the case.

Down in Surrey Mole Valley councillor John Northcott said he could rule out any building in the green belt in the short term, but "in the longer term, who knows?" he said. I do not know Guildford and Mole Valley that well, but I do know that a third of Mole Valley's councillors and all of Guildford's councillors are up for re-election in May, so would hazard a guess at what happens in the long term. The Green Belt review will be revisted somewhere near the middle of the next electoral cycle and a local plan will includea redrawing of its boundaries.

The outcome will be the same and so will be the people in charge, which explains the political posturing around Green Belts...

Monday, 3 November 2014

The first item in the Manc Mayor's In-Tray

Of all the challenges awaiting the first directly-elected mayor of Greater Manchester in 2017, and there will no doubt be plenty, the one that drew my eye amongst the 'devo-manc' coverage (3 November 2014) was the need for the Spatial Framework to be approved 'by a unanimous vote of the Mayor’s Cabinet' (here). John Geoghegan at Planning Magazine has been told by Eamonn Boylan at Stockport Council (here) that the Cabinet would retain the GMCA model, which means that it will comprise all ten Council leaders.

According to the Spatial Framework consultation material, 2017 should herald a 'publication' draft of the new statutory document, as well as it's submission for examination. Even without a unanimous cabinet vote that is an extremely ambitious timetable because it means plan publication either before or very soon after an election in May, cabinet consent to the submission of the plan in the summer, and an examination by Christmas. The need for unanimity though means that just one dissenting voice around the cabinet table could delay progress on a plan already three years in the  making. In other words, the Mayor, who themselves may (depending upon the successful candidate,) have had little involvement in the plan-making process, will have to convince all ten leaders, perhaps themselves new in post, that the plan satisfies all of their interests. Interestingly, other Greater Manchester strategies will require just a two-thirds majority at the new Cabinet.

This matters because any delay to the Spatial Framework matters. This is an extract from a paper presented to Stockport's LDF Working Party on 4 November 2014:

It should not be necessary to wait until at least 2018 and the projected DPD adoption before the Council can proceed with work on its own local plan (in whatever form that might be) because work on that can take place concurrently with the GMSF document. Nevertheless, clearly this work will result in a delay to the adoption of relevant planning documents.

Stockport's Core Strategy pre-dates the NPPF and includes an RSS-based housing requirement. As the Working Party paper states... If it is assumed, for the sake of simplicity, that 480dwellings dpa is the current net housing requirement in Stockport, taking a 10% split of the OAN figure as the comparable figure that could emerge from the GMSF equates to a figure over double the current target.

The use of the word unanimous was perhaps a deliberate attempt to allay fears about control being taken from LPAs rather than given to them, but when dealing with matters as controversial as the proportion of a housing requirement being directed to one or other borough, that bar does instinctively feel like a high one for the new mayor to jump over. 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

If we're going to build enough homes 'speculative' cannot be a dirty word

It would be interesting to know (and perhaps I'll ask at my next public exhibition...) what winds our NIMBY friends up more. The prospect of the green fields over which they have enjoyed a view being used to house the next generation, or the prospect of 'speculative developers' benefiting from the process.
The phrase, speculative developer, is an emotive one and one that I imagine sub-editors quite like because it instantly invokes an image of someone in a pinstripe suit waving a fifty pound note around. Notwithstanding the plain and simple fact that people profit from the development process (and I do like to ask NIMBYs at exhibitions whether they would promote any land that they owned for development...) the two component words represent an amalgamation of two distinct players in the process.
The first word first. The dictionaries that I have just consulted define speculative in a number of ways, but common ones include 'a high risk of loss', and 'a venture undertaken on the chance of success, without a pre-existing contract'.
The promotion of land through the planning system is an expensive business. The work required to present a suitable, available and achievable urban extension at a local plan EIP (which might take a couple of years...), followed by the technical work required for an environment statement to support a planning application (which might take another year), in addition to liaison with all interested parties throughout both processes would probably require a budget of at least £250,000. If we were to add a public inquiry (and another year...) it would probably rise to £400,000.
Other definitions of speculative include 'to think about something and make guesses about it' and 'to form ideas or theories about something usually when there are many things not known about it'. Ten years on from the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act and two years on from the NPPF local plan coverage remains poor (and local plan's consistent with the NPPF is worse). The rhythmic swinging of the political pendulum contrives to make the promotion of land through the planning system a risky business as well.
The result of this cost and risk, directly or indirectly, is a planning system that simply does not allocate enough land, which contributes to situation whereby farmland can become fifty times more valuable upon the grant of planning permission (and that's in the North West, the multiple in the south is considerably higher).
Here then we need to draw the distinction between speculator and developer, for whilst both might be making guesses when many things are not known about an emerging local plan, the motivations are very different. 
A housebuilder promoting land through the planning system will, of course, benefit from some discount in open market land value at the point of purchase, but when taking on the landowner's cost and risk it is predominantly in exchange for the security of medium or long term supply, and when planning permission is granted and the purchase is confirmed, homes get built. When a land promoter takes on the landowner's cost it is solely to benefit from the uplift in land value, and when planning permission is granted the land has to be sold to a housebuilder before homes get built.
The rise of the former has grown in recent years, which reflects some fundamental issues with our land and planning systems, but it is also important to note that it is an essential activity. To consistently build 240,000 homes a year means planning permissions being consistently granted for at least 240,000 homes a year, and the housebuilding industry cannot account for such an amount alone.
For as long then as the time-consuming, uncertain and costly nature of the planning system make in accessible to all but the wealthiest landowners, the promotion of land will be a speculative process undertaken by either promoter or developer. Are our NIMBY friends self-aware enough to spot their role in making the system so time-consuming, uncertain and costly? I'll put that, and the distinction between promoter and developer, to them when I see them next, but I suspect that they won't care...

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The housing crisis is a national one so why aren't new settlements of national significance?

Ah, Garden Cities. Like Matthew Le Tissier in an England shirt, everybody agrees that they should work, but nobody seems able to get them to. The Lyons Review has added to the growing body of support for the concept.

The evidence is clear that Garden Cities will not happen without local support and therefore we propose that the process will be locally-led with designation proposed by local authorities; proposals from other parties including LEPs or private developers could be valid where the support of local communities and alignment with local plans is clearly evidenced.

Regular readers will know that I regard locally-led Garden Cities as the planning equivalent of turkey-led Christmas dinners so I shan't dwell on the need for local support, but the suggestion that non-locally-led proposals should be clearly aligned with local plans demands closer inspection. Advice to the review has suggested that progressing through the Local Plan process is likely to take at least three years.

Three years? It is ten years since the Planning & Compulsory Purchase Act introduced the need for Core Strategies and still only 57% of LPAs have an adopted plan. It is almost inconceivable that a Garden City or indeed any new settlement of scale could fully align with a local plan process. Putting aside our NIMBY friends, the influence of local elections three years out of four, and squabbles between LPAs about cross-boundary housing requirements, new settlements are a leap of faith. Only a bold promoter would invest in a scheme to the point of indisputable deliverable without the confidence that an allocation will be forthcoming. By the same token, only a bold LPA would submit for examination a local plan that included a new settlement with indisuptable evidence of delivery. Boldness is a rare quality and leaps of faith are unlikely to stand up to the test of soundness.

That is the current square that needs circling, but since Mr Lyons goes no further than the extent of Government intervention proposed in the Garden City prospectus (identifying broad areas of search, setting criteria, and inviting proposals on specific sites), there is no sign that it will be circled any time soon.

What could the answer be? Well, the since the housing crisis is a national one why aren't new settlements of national significance in planning terms? This is a
call made in 2012 by an advisory panel chaired by Tony Pidgely to classify large housing developments as major infrastructure projects.

Under the Planning Act 2008, Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) are approved by the Secretary of State via a single Development Consent Order, circumventing the need to apply to the LPA for planning permission. The Government extended the NSIP regime last year to cover certain business and commercial projects.

If the test for non-locally-led proposals is to be clearly aligned with local plans then, like Matthew Le Tissier in an England shirt, we may as well consign Garden Cities to the 'what might have been' file. Those planets will just not align. Adopting a local plan is akin to sailing a ship that is constantly buffeted by winds that change direction and threatened by rocks that are not marked on any maps. New homes, at scale, is surely a matter of national significance and new settlements are surely worthy of having their planning merits examined in a forum that offers some solace from the storm.

On Lyons, Localism & Leadership

Putting aside the terrible title ("Mobilising across the nation to build the homes our children need" sounds like a key words were thrown into a hat and picked out at random) and the glaring difference between an identified need for 243,000 homes a year and an identified target of 'at least' 200,000 homes a year, there is much to commend the Lyons Review. Despite though a promise of 'national leadership', the key issue for many practioners, the return of regional planning, has been sidestepped. 
On the plus side, of the ten key recommendations for planning reform summarised here by Planning Magazine there is merit in nine (I imagine that the policy of 'local homes for local people' was thrown in by a SpAd because I cannot think that any of the Commissioners felt that was a sound idea that is workable in practice).

A "national spatial dimension to the NPPF to identify opportunities for substantial housing growth created by national infrastructure investment" is a welcome, if tentative, step towards a national plan and Housing Growth Areas point councils towards the kind of enabling role that is more commonly adopted on the continent (see here notes of Nick Lee's (NJL Consulting) visit to Hammerby) .
The 'Use It Or Lose It' provisions have been widely trailed and certainly we at Barratt Development's have no issue with this in principle. As my colleague Philip Barnes said here, our business model requires that we get on site and start building as soon as possible. For the reasons I set out here though, in response to the charge that some planning permissions can 'sit in limbo', the shortening of a life of a consent would be a concern.
What is striking to me, however, especially given the trap that the current Government fell into, is that localism is still seen as being able to address one of the identified causes of the nation's inability to house itself, which is that not enough land is being brought forward. Apparently, the "artificial scarcity of land" is compounded by the fact that communities "do not have all the powers they need to ensure that homes are built in the places they want, and some are not taking responsibility for meeting local housing need."

Hmm. The planning system might restrict the use of land, but local plans should plan to meet objectively assessed housing need so land for development should not be scarce. Similarly, the local plan system provides all the power a community could possibly want to ensure that homes are built in the places it wants.
"Decisions about how and where new homes should be built should be taken locally by local authorities and their communities with the tools, flexibilities and devolution of funding needed, but on the basis of clear commitments that housing need will be met."
Well that sounds nice. Who could possibly object to that? Let us not forgot though what happened when housing targets in the RSS' were scraped and when regional planning was replaced by a 'duty-to-cooperate' (DtC)? This happened. As the report recognises, only 190 of 336 (57%) LPAs have adopted plans in place and though the reasons for this will be different in each case, I would wager that when are boiled down many of those reasons will actually be the same: an absence of political will. 
The deadline for the submission of a plan (2016), the requirement for a 'Strategic Housing Market Plan', the 'Right to Grow', and the simplified two-stage local plan making process all skirt around the fundamental problem, which is that the higher-than-local planning does not sit comfortably alongside the clamour to devole power to the lowest possible level. The Lyons remedy is, therefore, something of a fudge.
"Where there is a failure to cooperate across boundaries to meet needs in a housing market area, councils will be required to produce a joint strategic plan, with the Secretary of State having the ability to intervene and instruct the Planning Inspectorate to ensure that it happens. This will address the weaknesses in the current Duty to Cooperate and ensure that
NLP published a review of the NPPF's impact  earlier this year (here) and found evidence that cooperation with surrounding LPAs is becoming "an integral concern for many Inspectors’ reviews of Plans". Brandon Lewis told the Commons Select Committee examing the operation of the NPPF that ten local plans had failed the DtC so far. Why then wait for LPAs to fall out or to fail the DtC test? Why allow a plan, or more often than not more than one plan since it takes at least two to tango, to get all the way to examination before intervening. Why not a requirement to produce a joint strategic plan at the start of the process rather than the end? As the GMCA has already recognised, the higher-than-local nettle needs grasping. Others will no doubt follow, but we need more local plans and more planning permissions now. 

Interestingly, a recent YouGov poll has suggested that the public would actually support regional planning. Only 14% of 1,715 people surveyed thought that local councils should take decisions on the siting of new towns and major new housing projects. Will this be enough for the election strategists to reconsider their commitments to localism? That is perhaps a little optimistic, but it will hopefully provide food for thought. The Lyons Review states that  "the Government must provide long term political leadership by making housing a national priority", which sounds good, but including 'housing is a national priority' on an election pledge card is not leadership. Leadership would be to state that it is for the Government to approve the number of new homes within a particular authority, and for the authority and the communities within in to determine where they are built. That would not only be popular with planners, but it might just be popular with the public too.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

On the time lag between consent and construction

Sitting here in limbo
But I know it won't be long
Sitting here in limbo
Like a bird without a song
Well, they're putting up a resistance
But I know that my faith will lead me on

Ok, Sam. I hear you say. What tenuous way have you found to crow bar a Jimmy Cliff song into a 50 Shades blog... 

Well. Barbour ABI, a supplier of data to the construction industry, has announced that, while 238,000 homes received planning permission in England and Wales last year (September 2013 to August 2014), only 129,000 units started construction in the same period.

This, it was stated, "indicates a significant disparity between planning permissions and builds starting on site". 24 Dash, a social housing and local government 
website, went on describe 109,000 planned dwellings as...
wait for it...
"sitting in limbo".

The suggestion that planning permissions can be implemented within the same calender year will raise a chortle from anybody working in the development profession who knows that planning permission is but a staging post on the long journey from inception to implementation. As my colleague Philip Barnes tweeted in response to the 24 Dash piece:

"What drivel. Do they know about Reserved Matters, pre-commencement conditions and the need to complete land purchase?"

Beyond that initial chortle though is the implication that this lack of awareness and misrepresentation of the data has for the status quo lobby. By that I do not mean leather-clad fans of Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi. I mean those who Jimmy Cliff would describe as putting up a resistance. Those who think that the we can dance around Green Belt question and build enough homes by bringing vacant brownfield sites back into use and stopping those nasty volume house builders from land banking.

As Philip Barnes alluded to, there is no disparity between planning permissions and builds starting on site, but there is a time lag. If a planning permission is a detailed one and it has been secured by a builder with a controlling interest in the site then that time lag might be a short one and might be dependant solely on satisfying pre-commencement conditions. If though that planning permission is in outline then that time lag might be a considerable one. If an outline approval secured by a builder triggers an option to purchase the site then agreement will need to be reached with the owner on what the site's market value is. If an outline approval secured by a promoter triggers a requirement for the owner to dispose of the site for development then a marketing process will need to be commenced and completed. These are lengthy processes and, co-incidentally, the 129,000 homes identified by Barbour ABI as starting between September 2013 to August 2014 is almost identical to the 129,904 homes granted planning permission in England and Wales in 2009.

There is also a second time-lag to have in mind. In 2012, when the NPPF was published, 144,885 homes were granted planning permission so it has taken two years for the planning system to start to deliver anything like the number of permissions required. Even now, as the HBF has pointed out, whilst the overall number of plots getting permission is back to 2008 levels, the number of actual sites getting approval (and therefore actual new home sales outlets) remains low in comparison, which is an indication that in many cases it is bigger strategic sites that are coming forward.
So, 109,000 planned dwellings are not "sitting in limbo". They are working their way through a system that needs to deliver 240,000 permission each and every year if we are to build 240,000 new homes each and every year. That is something that should be borne in mind by either an old Government with an eye on an election or a new Government with a reforming mandate...

Friday, 26 September 2014

On the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework

The first impression of confirmation that the ten AGMA authorities are to develop the nascent spatial framework (GMSF) for identifying future housing and land requirements into a statutory joint Development Plan Document (DPD) was a positive one. The replacement of regional planning by the current Government with a wishy-washy 'duty-to-co-operate' was to the detriment of strategic plan-making, and Greater Manchester, functioning as it does as a single spatial entity, will manifestly benefit from more coordinated planning.

On reflection though, one starts to wonder about the ability of the ten LPAs to get local plans in place whilst the GMSF process is ongoing. Although the consultation document states that "no weight should be attached to the intention to produce the GMSF or the initial evidence that is the subject of this consultation", it is also stated that "the objectively assessed needs or requirements for individual districts will be a key output of future stages of work on the GMSF".

The stated timetable envisages that a GMSF will be adopted in 2018, but we should add a couple of years to that just in case. Even if individual LPAs start work on the amendments to Green Belt boundaries and the identification of specific sites before the adoption of the GMSF, it is hard to imagine that allocations will be confirmed much before 2022. That is eight years away. What are the ten LPAs to do in the meantime? What is the development industry to do in the meantime? What is the city's growing population to do in the meantime?

The Oldham (November, 2011), Trafford (January, 2012) and Stockport (March 2011) Core Strategies were adopted before the NPPF (March 2012) and Manchester's (July, 2012) came soon afterwards. It is now accepted (confirmed in the Broom Hill, Sevenoaks appeal from October 2013) that the NPPF's requirement for LPAs to meet the full, objectively assessed needs attracts more weight than housing requirements included in development plans adopted in accordance with the previous advice in PPS3 (which required the provision of a sufficient quantity of housing taking into account need and demand). 

What progress now in Rochdale, Bury and Salford? Since the suspension of the Rochdale EiP the Council had been producing an up-to-date SHMA, but this was delayed so that the latest population projections published by ONS could be taken account of within the study. The Inspector examining the Bury Core Strategy wrote to the Council in July 2014 following its suspension and said that:

The Council has also referred to the potential need for an early review of the plan (possibly in connection with housing) in the light of the emerging Greater Manchester Strategic Framework (GMSF). Clearly it would be inappropriate to delay the adoption of a plan indefinitely but given the potential significance of the GMSF to Bury, I can see sense, in the current situation, of awaiting its outcome before producing a plan - as I understand from the hearings neighbouring Salford intends to do.

Why would these LPAs carry on with identifying their own objectively assessed housing need so as to progress with a local plan when the GMSF process is ongoing?

In summary, the principle of greater-than-local planning is a sound one, and in Greater Manchester particularly it chimes with the 'Devo-Manc' agenda, but will a statutory joint DPD mean that the objectively assessed housing requirement of 10,706 net additional dwellings per annum is met sooner rather than later? Would progress not be swifter by identifying objectively assessed needs for individual districts through the local plan process now? Who knows, but it is going to be interesting finding out...