Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Planning at the fun fair - the affordable housing saga continues

It does seem these days that planning (and the affordable housing saga in particular) is getting more and more like a roller coaster ride – or perhaps one of those pirate boat swings at the fun fair.

Remember the November 2014 Ministerial statement on affordable housing thresholds that meant all of a sudden no small site (and by small this could still be up to 10 homes) need make any contribution to affordable housing?  This was challenged by some local authorities, and last summer it was declared unlawful in the Courts.  However the Government challenged that decision, and the Court of Appeal have now reversed the earlier judgement, although in their decision they have also made clear that the Ministerial Statement does not need to be “applied in a blanket fashion” and is “a material consideration … and no more”. 

So where does that leave these small sites?  Legal advisers I suspect are busy sharpening their pencils.  I don’t envy decision takers who have to balance all these points.  And I don’t envy the small scale builders who are probably wondering when the best time is to jump onto the ride.
Another space to watch is the newly enacted Housing and Planning Act which could be the trump card in this messy saga.  It included a clause (106ZB) allowing the Secretary of State to make regulations to impose restrictions or conditions on planning obligations for the provision of affordable housing, and how affordable housing is defined.  The ink is hardly dry on the paper, and these regulations will have to be drafted and approved by Parliament – but it may well be the only way which Government can guarantee that their original minimum thresholds get applied.


Loders Plan through with 83% of the votes

Very pleased to see the results of the 5 May referendum on Loders' neighbourhood plan. 
146 people voted yes to having the plan used to help decide planning applications in the neighbourhood area - this represented 83% of the votes
29 people voted no.

The turnout for the vote was a respectable 40% of the electorate.
Big congratulations to all those volunteers who have worked hard to reflect the community’s wishes and produce their plan. 
The next Full Council meeting is 21 July – which should be when the plan is officially ‘made’.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Loders Neighbourhood Plan - next step Referendum

Loders' Neighbourhood Plan has passed its Examination.  Congratulations to all involved!  The next step will be a local referendum.  As long as enough local residents vote 'yes', the Neighbourhood Plan should then become the second 'made' plan in Dorset.

Claire Wright undertook the examination over the Christmas period, and commended the extent to which the group had reached out to its community and was an inherently community-driven document, and the fact that the plan was clear, concise (at just under 30 pages) and easy to understand.  She has suggested some very minor modifications, none of which fundamentally change the Plan's contents or direction.  The District Council will formally consider her report in March.

It is likely that the referendum will be held on 5 May, to combine with the Police and Crime Commissioner elections on that date. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Neighbourhood plans and housing land supply

The guidance supporting national planning policy has been updated this month, with some notable additions on housing and neighbourhood plans.  There are three key messages coming through, which reinforce what I have been advising local groups:

(1)    If a neighbourhood plan is looking at housing or settlement boundaries, it is critical that it takes into account the housing needs for the area, both from district-wide and (if possible) locally sourced evidence. 

(2)    Do not take the settlement boundary for granted, as it may not count in the absence of a five year housing land supply at a district level – so if there are key spaces and places to protect outside of the boundary which are not otherwise subject to a designation, these should be highlighted in your plans.  Any locally sourced information on housing needs can also be used in planning decisions when there is a lack of a housing land supply. 

(3)    Local Plans are likely to get reviewed and allocate additional sites at some point in the future - neighbourhood plans can influence these future decisions, for example by allocating reserve sites to ensure that any future needs can be met.

For those that want to read on – the relevant extracts are:

“Up-to-date housing needs evidence is relevant to the question of whether a housing supply policy in a neighbourhood plan or Order contributes to the achievement of sustainable development”

“Where the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, decision makers may still give weight to relevant policies in the emerging neighbourhood plan, even though these policies should not be considered up-to-date … Documentation produced in support of or in response to emerging neighbourhood plans … may also be of assistance to decision makers in their deliberations”

When there is a lack of a 5 year housing land supply in the local plan area neighbourhood plan policies restricting housing supply will be “out of date”, and as such “the presumption in favour of sustainable development requires the granting of planning permission, unless any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in the Framework taken as a whole; or specific policies in the Framework indicate development should be restricted”  “Decision makers should include within their assessment those policies in the Framework that deal with neighbourhood planning … which states that where a planning application conflicts with a neighbourhood plan that has been brought into force, planning permission should not normally be granted.”

“Neighbourhood plans should consider providing indicative delivery timetables, and allocating reserve sites to ensure that emerging evidence of housing need is addressed. This can help minimise potential conflicts and ensure that policies in the neighbourhood plan are not overridden by a new Local Plan.”

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Buckland Newton - submitted for its examination

Buckland Newton have taken the next step towards finalising their neighbourhood plan.  The proposed plan has been submitted to West Dorset District Council, and the District Council have agreed that it can proceed to examination. 

The neighbourhood plan takes forward the aspirations identified in the Parish Plan, and proposes a range of small housing sites mainly around the larger settlement of Buckland Newton, but also some very small scale development in the hamlets.  Most of the sites are put forward as rural exception sites, to ensure that they will provide some affordable housing (as they are under the now withdrawn '10 unit' affordable housing threshold proposed nationally).  The plan also sets out housing type and design criteria as well as safeguarding the key community spaces and places in the parish, and allocating a site for a new recreation area.

Will be keeping track on their progress over the coming months...

Thursday, 21 January 2016

The NPPF proposed changes got a new angle added today...

I mentioned in passing, but didn't specifically comment on, the strengthening of the 'presumption in favour of brownfield land' that would be included (with its caveat of overriding conflicts with the Local Plan or National Planning Policy that cannot be mitigated). 

Anyone got a large garden in the countryside?  Well if you have, following on from today's High Court judgement, you own some land that, being outside of “built-up areas” is brownfield land.   Paragraph 111 of the NPPF says that brownfield land is where development ought to be prioritised, and the proposed changes could make this an even more forceful argument.

Sound like sustainable development to you?  Sometimes I think I must be living in a comedy sketch - you couldn't make it up!

Thursday, 14 January 2016

NPPF changes consultation (22 February 2016) - you may want to say something...


The following is a very brief run-through of what I have picked out as key issues for some of my clients…

Affordable housing - broadening the definition to include any affordable products for rent or for ownership, and lifting the requirement that all of these products would have to be affordable ‘in perpetuity’ or have the money released recycled back into providing further affordable housing.
Starter homes – making clearer that these should be considered on underused or unviable commercial / employment sites and rural exception sites.  These would be subject to the same minimum time limits on resale (5 years) as other starter homes but local planning authorities could, exceptionally, require a local connection test for example where access to the housing market for working people can be difficult and would be consistent with existing policy on rural exception sites.  Also make clear that Neighbourhood Plans can allocate Starter Home sites in the Green Belt.
These two changes will bring in more options by which affordable homes could provide a suitable solution, but it will be important for those groups preparing neighbourhood plans to be clear whether specific local connection or other issues might be required, and have evidence to support this.

Brownfield sites – strengthening the ‘presumption’ in favour of brownfield land unless there are overriding conflicts with the Local Plan or National Planning Policy that cannot be mitigated.
Small sites (of less than 10 units) adjoining settlement boundaries – making clear that proposals for development on such sites should be supported if they are sustainable.

The consideration of small sites adjoining settlement boundaries could mean that some sites that were dismissed in neighbourhood plans could still come forward for open market housing, which may mean that some neighbourhood plan groups will feel that their ability to shape future development is effectively undermined.
Housing delivery test - introducing a new measurement for under-delivery possibly based on completions compared to the housing targets (or trajectories), and requiring the local planning authority to identify additional sustainable sites if the existing approach is considerable below the housing required through a rapid and targeted plan review.

This is unlikely to be a key issue for more rural parts, but could have implications for sites around the main towns, though any ‘quick’ allocations would still need to go through consultation and examination.
Commuter hubs and higher density housing – where there is a rail interchange that has, or could have in the future, a frequent (15 minutes at peak times) service to that stop, local planning authorities should require higher density housing development. 

Interesting choice of wording – although I don’t think there are any places outside of the conurbation in Dorset where this could apply, it could be argued that everywhere is a possibility!
If the above raises any concerns, it is worth putting in a response to the consultation, rather than hoping that others will...

Monday, 4 January 2016

North Dorset Local Plan - plain sailing up to April

Yes - it arrived in the Christmas post!  Dated 17 December the Inspector's report concludes the plan is sound, subject to the main modifications that were aired in the summer. 

In particular with regard to the new housing need data, he concludes that "Taken as a whole… the benefits of adopting a plan that will be subject to early review, outweigh the disbenefits of relying on the 2012 SHMA.”

So provided that there are no hiccups between now and the Full Council meeting, the District Council can rest on its laurels of having the most up to date Local Plan in Dorset. Not that the planners can rest for long, as the early review means starting by April this year, and may inevitably require more sites to be found in light of the housing need for the future.