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District councils concerned about meeting housing targets

Words: Laura Edgar
Missing housing targets / Shutterstock_105483152

The District Councils’ Network (DCN) has called on the government to take a pragmatic approach to support councils and amend existing planning guidelines as planning authorities are concerned about delivering their housing targets owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The representative body for 187 district councils in England with responsibility for planning and housebuilding has warned that these councils could be unfairly penalised.

Construction on new homes was halted in March as the government implemented a lockdown intended to stem the spread of the virus. A DCN survey* shows that 57 per cent of respondents are “very concerned” about being able to sustain a supply of land for housing over the next five years and meet their housing targets. They are worried this could lead to speculative developments despite planning departments working and deciding planning applications throughout lockdown.

As a result of not having a land supply, the DCN noted that local planning policies will not apply and areas could see developments that are refused because of objections from local residents, for example, able to proceed on appeal.

As long-awaited planning reforms are expected to be published this week, the DCN has called on the government to “take a pragmatic approach to support councils, and amend existing planning guidelines”.

This comes as the DCN’s new survey found that more than half (57 per cent) of respondents were very concerned about the impact of coronavirus on being able to sustain a supply of land for housing over the next five years – known as the five-year land supply.

Of the respondents, 62 per cent fear they would not meet the government’s housing delivery test, meaning developments “would be subject to nationally defined planning policies as opposed to local plans agreed by local communities,” DCN explained.

It wants planning guidelines to be amended to take into account the period during which housebuilding did not happen and the slowdown so that councils are not unfairly penalised. The changes should include a suspension of the five-year land supply and housing delivery test requirements.

Mark Crane, DCN lead member for stronger economies, said: “Councils have serious concerns that they will be unfairly penalised as a result of housebuilding slowing down because of the coronavirus crisis.

“The loss of new homes built will have a significant impact on the five-year land supply, which without protection would allow developers to bypass local community wishes.

“We need the government to focus on achieving delivery of housebuilding on allocated sites and avoid the corrosive effects of speculative development where communities don’t have a say.

“District councils want to play a leading role in the national recovery from the pandemic and building desperately needed homes again will be a vital part of this.

“But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and sideline public consultation. This is why we need the government to step in and suspend the five-year land supply and housing delivery test requirements, and devolve the tools for councils to invest in the infrastructure and building that will create jobs and homes.”

* The survey was sent to 187 district council chief executives, 86 responses to the survey were received, representing 46 per cent of DCN member authorities.

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