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Development plans - planning to fail?


Is the government's encouragement of local development plan's acutally acting as a block to development? Nick Lee discusses.

We know that an early, easy-to-read and relevant development plan is the basis upon which the planning world should function. But this remains a pipe dream.

The government seems to be pushing hard for plans to be in place as soon as possible, and I have seen how inspectors are assisting with this process in local plan examinations. But what are the outcomes?

First, inspectors are switching to the ‘Liverpool’ method, suggesting that any shortfall in the housing provision can be made up over the whole planning period – not in the first five years. Second, some inspectors are narrowing down the ability for genuine objectors to properly critique the planning process.

In Cheshire East, for example, objectors are not allowed to introduce new evidence to challenge the council’s new evidence, and are only allowed to comment on changes to a plan.

"Every neighbourhood plan I have seen to date has been led by local people who see them as an excercise in restricting development"

Even more worrying is that in some places (such as Cheshire West) the past under-delivery of housing from the previous planning period was simply wiped from memory and never put into the new plan.

The approach to spreading housing through the planning period doesn’t boost supply. It follows that some councils, often those under most pressure to release green field sites, will stall giving consents because they will magically have a time period where there is supposedly a five-year supply of housing. But it’s simple maths that they will end up with insufficient housing. This will be challenged by appellants at inquiry, and they will be forced into an early planning review.

And every neighbourhood plan (NP) I have seen to date has been led by local people who see them as an exercise in restricting development. Ludicrously, some are made and allowed even if tied to out-of-date local plans, so are also immediately out of date as there is no five-year land supply.

What message is the government trying to send out? On one hand, let’s be a nation of house builders; on the other, support NPs whether linked to an up-to-date plan or not, and whether they block development or not.

My cynical side leads me to believe that the Treasury is pushing to be more permissive, while those closer to Conservative local councils see how NPs can block development. This was brought into relief when the Lords amended the Housing & Planning Bill to allow neighbourhood groups to appeal against approvals.

There is one caveat; they have to have a housing site designated in their NP. So for very little effect, the whole planning system will be further grounded by appeal after appeal.

Nick Lee is managing director of NJL Consulting

Image credit | iStock


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