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Sedgemoor chief planner: 'Apply housing delivery test beyond local authorities'

Words: Martin Read
Claire Pearce

The assistant director of inward investment and growth and chief planner for Sedgemoor District Council has called for the housing delivery test to be made applicable to other authorities and agencies.

Speaking at last week’s Bristol Planning Law & Policy conference, Claire Pearce challenged the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to consider applying the test to highways authorities as well as other statutory and private sector bodies.

“The housing delivery test is welcome but we would like to see this as an opportunity to hold other people to account,” said Pearce. “We want to see the system work better with the performance regime and housing delivery test applying to the system as a whole, not just planning authorities.”

Pearce said that she was seeing delays within the system, often caused by statutory agencies and highways authorities. "The interpretation of ‘severe impact’ for us is a constant thorn,” she explained. “We see many barriers from different statutory agencies, which slow us down. The NPPF’s positive planning approach and the presumption in favour must apply to the system as a whole, not just local planning authorities.”

Looking locally, Pearce expressed concern about the potential for Sedgemoor being penalised through the housing delivery test for a specific shortfall in a particular year despite the total houses delivered over a wider timeframe meeting demand.

She framed her concern in the context of Sedgemoor’s considerable activity in providing temporary accommodation consents for the ongoing Hinkley Point C construction project. (“Overall we have 4,000 people on site at the minute – that’s double the size of a local village and about 10% the size of our main town of Bridgwater.”)

Caution over revised NPPF

Although describing the revised National Planning Poilicy Framework as giving a “strong steer,” Pearce also described it as “fragmented” and “light on economy,” expressing her concerns about the greater complexity it introduces into the planning process.

“If I’m trying to encourage my staff to work faster and to get applications through the system quicker, there’s an awful lot they have to take on board now; practice guidance, ministerial statements, the new guidance post-Letwin. One of my main concerns is the impact of the NPPF2 on processing time and staff caseloads, and obviously any legal issues or judicial reviews.”

Pearce further described NPPF2 as very housing focused: “In Sedgemoor we see a focus on economic development as being the real key to tackling the issues we face,” she said. 

“We have a low wage, low value economy and we have to transform that to drive up the quality and sustainability of employment long term. We want to do that in ways which create a higher quality and more diverse housing market.

Driving more foreign direct investment as a way of driving up the quality of Sedgemoor’s employment offer was key, Pearce argued. “We will continue to champion the economic growth approach. We will champion the M5 growth corridor, and would like to see a study akin to the Oxford / Milton Keynes / Cambridge arc in order to work more strategically across the local LEP areas.”

However, more welcome in the document was paragraph 119 and the role of a local planning authority taking a proactive approach in bringing forward land and facilitating land assembly. “That is something we’re taking very seriously in progressing our enterprise zone,” said Pearce, who further cautioned about the possible loss of employment land to housing – “something we will be looking to track”.

Pearce was presenting as part of a session entitled 'NPPF2 - will it deliver?' Chief planner Steve Quartermain and Barratt Homes' group land and planning director Philip Barnes also took part. A further report on the event will appear in The Planner's January 2019 edition.