A White Christmas for Neighbourhood Plans?
Published December 21st, 2016
At the beginning of December the Housing and Planning Minister Gavin Barwell MP issued a Written Ministerial Statement that proposes to make it harder to secure approval for planning applications that are contrary to an adopted neighbourhood plan. Mr Barwell said that he was aware that: ‘‘Communities who have been proactive and worked hard to bring forward neighbourhood plans are often frustrated that their plan is being undermined because their local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply of deliverable housing sites.’’
The written statement is intended to help neighbourhood plans to retain their validity once approved by giving them some immunity to a District Council’s lack of five-year housing supply. In short, the Ministerial Statement states that where a Council has a three-year supply of housing the policies of the neighbourhood plan are deemed not to be out-of-date. Hence, it will no longer be possible to use the local authority’s lack of a 5 year housing supply to gain approval for a residential application that is contrary to an adopted neighbourhood plan.
Mr Barwell is in between a rock and a hard place having to deliver the 200,000 new homes a year that are needed by 2020 whilst continuing the pledge to support neighbourhood planning. Housebuilders are already gearing up to challenge the validity of the Ministerial Statement by judicial review. The absence of any prior consultation on such a major change in national policy is unprecedented and considered by many as completely unlawful.
There is no doubt that the Ministerial Statement will have significant implications for the housing industry and its ability to deliver the Government’s housing building targets. In some parts of the country, such as Cheshire and Sussex, half of the District or Borough is already covered by neighbourhood plans and with over 2,000 neighbourhood plans in progress though the system they will soon cover very large parts of England. As we know, many Local Planning Authorities do not have a deliverable five-year supply of housing land but most do have a 3 year supply.
I think most would agree that the need for a five year land requirement has been of considerable assistance to the delivery of housing, but the Ministerial Statement appears to remove that benefit. Land promotion will become increasingly difficult in any area with a neighbourhood plan or one that is emerging. The likelihood is that Local Authorities will refuse applications and force an appeal if the neighbourhood plan is yet to be adopted. Even for appeals which have been heard already, if the decision has not yet been issued, the Planning Inspectorate are already asking for submissions on the effect of the Ministerial Statement on the proposal.
As usual watch this space for news on how the Ministerial Statement will progress…or not! And whether the big freeze on villages will be thawed.