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Local plan delivery is too slow and too incomplete

Words: Laura Edgar

Poorly functioning local plans stop the delivery of 200,000 homes each year, suggests a new report.

Three years after the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), progress on getting local plans in place remains slow, Signal Failure: A Review Of Local Plans And Housing Requirements, a report by Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP), suggests.

The NPPF was championed by the coalition government, which aimed to simplify and speed up the planning process by consolidating policy into a concise document.

Since then, said the consultancy, only a quarter of English local authorities have introduced a local plan - and a third of these require an early review to assess whether housing need is being met.

Additionally, the report says a growing number of councils are being asked to increase housing allocations by planning inspectors.

Matthew Spry, senior director and head of economics at NLP, explained the research shows that when local plans are prepared and then approved by an inspector, they are delivering the homes needed.

“However, in too many areas this is taking too long to achieve. Evidence of housing need relied on by plans is being found wanting and it is proving difficult for local authorities to agree on how overspill housing from towns and cities is dealt with in surrounding districts.

Statistics from Signal Failure:

• 126 local plans have been examined or submitted for examination

• 62 local plans were found to be sound

• 21 local plans were withdrawn mainly because of insufficient housing numbers

•32 per cent of adopted plans require early review

• 5 additional months for plans to be found sound after NPPF introduction

“Regional Spatial Strategies did not find favour in many local areas, but the government’s removal of them has yet to be compensated for by a well-functioning local plan system, including the ‘duty to cooperate’.

“Addressing this strategic vacuum seems likely to be important in ensuring housing needs are met, particularly around our fast-growing towns and cities.”

The report identifies two difficulties local authorities are struggling to reconcile.

The first is determining which neighbouring authorities will be asked to meet the housing overspill that cannot be accommodated by the council itself - the duty to co-operate – and the second is that many green belt authorities “appear to be dragging their feet over housing requirements in their plans”, said NLP.

Mr Spry added: “The acid test will be when more green belt authorities progress their plans over coming years, although there is currently little incentive for many of these councils to accelerate plan delivery with all the difficult implications involved.”

The consultancy concluded that if the system were fully functioning, more than 200,000 of the required 240,000 homes a year would be built, with the report coming at a time when half that number of homes needed a year are being built.