29 January 2016
How local will local plans be in the future? Since we last reported in our Housing Special newsletter (2017 and the future for Local Plans), there has been an even greater move towards intervention. An amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, for example, gives the Mayor of London and combined authorities powers to ‘prepare or revise’ local plans if councils are not making sufficient progress.
The 2017 deadline
The Government had already announced last summer that ‘early 2017’ would be the deadline for local authorities to have an-up-to date local plan, after which it would intervene in local plan-making to ensure delivery of new homes. In reality, this intervention is likely to be carefully selective.
The latest reforms
The latest proposed reforms, in the Housing and Planning Bill, are intended to support this deadline. They also, arguably, lead to a further centralisation of planning powers when considering Local Plans and new housing development. The measures include:
Alongside the new bill, consultation is underway on changes to the National Planning Policy Framework that will introduce new planning policy, setting out how the measures in the Bill will be delivered though development plans and in decision-making. Suggested changes include measures to ensure housing delivery is consistent with local plan targets. This focus on delivery, as well as the suitability, of allocated housing sites has been well established for some years. But these proposed changes to policy are the first suggestion that the Government will take action ‘where there is a significant shortfall between the homes provided for in Local Plans and the houses being built.’ This shortfall will be assessed in a housing delivery test, covering a two-year period to avoid short-term fluctuations. A significant shortfall (yet to be defined) could be remedied through identification of additional sites through a plan review or Area Action Plans. The days of local plans and allocations fixed for 15 years, with no realistic prospect of new sites coming forward in the interim, would disappear.
So, further intervention by the Government looks certain for those local authorities not delivering on their housing commitments. This places greater onus on authorities to allocate sites only where they are confident of delivery. Otherwise they may find themselves looking for more sites.
Implications for landowners and developers
Whilst this is not yet the ‘use it or lose it’ planning permissions of the Lyons Housing Review, the proposed changes must have implications for existing housing sites. If authorities are instructed to find new sites to deliver on the local plan requirements, what does this mean for allocated sites? This is particularly of concern where the lack of delivery is caused by external influences such as local authority resourcing, labour and material shortages or fluctuations in the market.
Landowners and developers will need to be aware of the proposed changes and what measures will be necessary to protect their land interests. Planning applications may need to be brought forward in advance of established timescales to maintain the development potential of sites. At this stage, the consultation talks about additional sites. But an early plan review could place existing allocations at risk if they cannot continue to demonstrate deliverability.
Judged on delivery
Local plans may become less local in a world where government intervention in housing delivery and plan preparation is expanding. In the Government’s eyes, a plan is only the start - councils will truly be judged on delivery.
For more information contact Mike Ashworth, Associate Director with the Leeds planning team, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 0113 219 2326.