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18/08/2015

Unsound, sound local plans will not solve the housing crisis

Homes

The government must stand firm on its insistence that local authorities produce an NPPF-compliant local plan by early 2017 - or we'll fail to build the housing we need, says Dominick Veasey

Dominick VeaseyThe Conservative Manifesto made a bold commitment that ‘everyone who works hard should have a chance to own their own home’.  Put simply, to achieve this we need to build a lot more homes. The housing and planning minister’s Written Ministerial Statement published on 21 July sought to positively highlight that in 2014-15, local councils granted permission for 261,000 new homes. This is a level that, if repeated, could meet the 232,000 new homes per annum required to meet projected needs. Good news then: the housing crisis is fixed.

However, the statistic nearly always brushed under the carpet is annual housing completions. In the same monitoring year only 125,000 new homes were completed – 54% of the homes needed. For the gap between housing permissions and completions to narrow, a sustained period of planning permissions above 230,000 homes per annum is required. Central to achieving this will be local authorities having up to date local plans which meet identified housing need in full.

The announcement that all NPPF compliant local plans must be in place by early 2017 is welcome, and likely to help ‘boost significantly’ the supply of new homes, but this support is not without some concerns.

"Everyone who works hard should have a chance to own their own home"

In practice the NPPF’s 12-month transitional period was always going to be more aspirational than achievable. With the 2017 date, a repeat of the process following the 2004 Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act, whereby many councils applied to save their old local plan policies in the absence of having updated documents, will hopefully be avoided. Three years was considered sufficient to get a core strategy in place, but many failed. The plethora of saved-policies still around today is testament to this.

The government must therefore stand firm on its 2017 deadline. In cases where no plan has been produced the development sector would be well placed to assist the government and local communities in determining appropriate levels of growth. This sector-led analysis could be subjected to community engagement and then ratified by the Planning Inspectorate.

Despite the benefits of a long-stop date, to deliver the level of housing needed it is imperative that only Local Plans which meet identified housing needs in full are adopted. Alongside the Ministerial Statement, guidance to the Planning Inspectorate was also issued through a letter and a Planning Advisory Service note. The guidance encourages inspectors to help councils get plans in place. Where shortcomings are identified, Inspectors should look to resolve these through either pausing to allow further work to be undertaken, or by using the ‘adopt and review mechanism’.

"A generation of unsound, sound local plans could be born that continue to frustrate the delivery of much needed housing for at least a further five years, if not longer."

Given the length of time it is taking for most local councils to get their first NPPF compliant local plan in place, there is a danger that in the drive to get plans adopted, some containing requirements too low to meet the full identified housing need will be allowed to creep through to adoption under the promise of undertaking an early review. A generation of unsound, sound local plans could be born that continue to frustrate the delivery of much needed housing for at least a further five years, if not longer.

The government must therefore seriously consider the implications of the ‘adopt and review mechanism’ on significantly boosting the delivery of housing over this and future Parliamentary periods. To address the acute housing crisis, we cannot keep putting off until tomorrow the difficult housing number and delivery questions. If we do, there is a real risk that housing completion statistics will be stuck at only 50 per cent of what is required forever.

Dominick Veasey is an associate at planning and regeneration consultancy Nexus Planning

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