4 reasons the Local Plan process is failing to solve the housing crisis

The government introduced the National Planning Policy Framework in 2012. One of its key objectives was to address the housing crisis by significantly boosting the supply of new homes. Every year since then, property consultancy Savills has produced a report looking at how councils are performing. Their latest review doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

Here are four key findings from the report, and what they mean for housing delivery in England.

1. Just 41% of councils have an up-to-date Local Plan.

The planning system in England is supposed to be plan-led. The amount and location of development in each borough should be set out in a Local Plan. That ensures that enough land is available for the new homes that are needed and provides certainty for local residents as to where it will go.

A new Local Plan can be prepared and adopted in around two years – yet five years after the National Planning Policy Framework was introduced, well over half of councils haven’t managed to put a new Plan in place.

2. More than half of councils are planning to build fewer homes than they need.

A central part of the Local Plan is supposed to be identifying the number of new homes that are needed and then planning to meet that need. Yet of those councils that do have an up-to-date Plan, 55% of them have successfully argued that there are particular circumstances which mean they can’t deliver all of the homes they think are needed.

3. Across England as a whole, the housing land supply stands at 5.3 years.

The way to make sure enough homes are built is, in large part, to make sure an adequate amount of land is available for them. It is therefore a requirement of national policy that enough deliverable sites must be available to meet housing needs for the next five years.

It is a key test. If the supply of sites falls below that level, then the Local Plan is considered to be out-of-date and a presumption in favour of sustainable development comes into effect. That means developments can be approved whether they comply with Local Plan policies or not.

Across England as a whole, the housing supply claimed by councils is just 5.3 years – that’s lower than the figure from last year.

It is also, of course, an average. As that average is so close to the minimum five-year supply, it is inevitable that a large number of councils won’t have even that.

4. In the last year, 61 councils have had the absence of a five year supply of homes confirmed at appeal.

When it was tested at an appeal, some 61 councils were found not to have the minimum five year housing land supply in the last 12 months. That’s almost 20% of all the planning authorities in England. A full third of those councils went into the planning appeals claiming to have a housing supply in excess of 5.5 years – so above the national average. Yet when their calculations were tested, they were found to have got their assessment wrong.

Not every council has its housing land supply tested at an appeal every year, so it is reasonable to assume that many councils who think they have an adequate supply of housing land, actually don’t.

The consequences

The Local Plan is a critical part of planning. It is the central part of the whole planning system. Putting a Plan in place should be a top priority for councils.

With so many Local Plans out-of-date, it means that many councils don’t know how many homes they need to build, or where that development should be located. When that is combined with an inadequate supply of new homes, councils can lose control of where development takes place as national policy overrides those out-of-date local policies. We explained why that’s the case in this previous article.

These are the so-called ‘speculative’ applications that the media are so fond of criticising. They aren’t speculative though – they are typically compliant with national policy and its objective to significantly boost the supply of homes by approving applications for sustainable development.

Those national policies are intended to provide a balance between councils controlling where they want development to take place, and ensuring that enough new homes are built. It goes without saying that if enough new homes aren’t built, the housing crisis won’t improve. Stopping development from happening while councils prepare a Local Plan is neither reasonable or realistic – especially when Plans can take so long to prepare.

What next?

Despite the importance of building new homes, councils often try to resist applications. Sometimes that’s because there are legitimate issues – not every application should be approved. Often though it is because they are relying on out-of-date policies or have calculated their housing supply incorrectly. This uncertainty is one of the reasons planning applications are becoming more expensive and more complicated.

As a specialist land promoter, The Strategic Land Group can take your site through the planning process dealing with all of those challenges on your behalf. We set the planning strategy, manage its delivery and even find a buyer for the site once permission is granted. We do that entirely at our cost and risk – if we don’t succeed, it doesn’t cost you anything. Our return is just a share of the value of the site once it is sold.

If you have a site where you think our approach might be of benefit, get in touch today to discuss it with us on a strictly confidential basis.

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