The previous NPPF was dubbed a “developer’s charter”, yet the national proposals out for consultation now are designed to make it even easier for developers.
There are more than 420,000 unbuilt homes with planning permission. The Government has set a target of 300,000 new dwellings every year, perhaps in the vain hope of flooding the market and bringing the prices down.
173,000 homes were built last year; around half the number of planning permissions given. 90 per cent of applications are passed and only a quarter of those refused win on appeal. The figures indicate that councils are giving planning permission as quickly as they reasonably can.
The previous NPPF was dubbed a “developer’s charter”, yet the national proposals out for consultation now are designed to make it even easier for developers. (The Local Plan is intended to provide some control as to where those houses go and most councils now have one.)
The proposal is to keep the presumption in favour of “sustainable” development; the Local Plan is seen as the way to control where those houses are built.
The number of houses needed was calculated differently by consultants working for different councils, some being very pro-growth. The Government now intends to standardise the way those calculations are made. This immediately affects our calculated five year land supply, which could create an open door for more planning permissions on new land.
Increasing the permitted development rights bypasses local people and local planning control. Ministerial statements since 2017 are to be included in the new NPPF. For example, allowing office-to-residential conversion without planning regulation has reduced the number of business premises available. Enabling people to raise their roofs, adding more floors, would bypass the planning control, not add to the infrastructure payments, and could damage the quality of life for neighbours. A ministerial announcement by Sir Eric Pickles, former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was that groups of up to 10 dwellings do not currently have to make a contribution to infrastructure.
The lack of transparency on the viability assessments is under discussion too. We have detailed ways of calculating the exact requirements in primary school classrooms or play areas, and then we allow the developers not to pay them, based on a “viability assessment” which no council staff get to see. The viability assessment is designed so the developer always gets a 20 per cent profit, regardless of what shortfall that leaves. So we are left with the question of who is going to pay for the essential infrastructure, or do we just go without? Essential facilities and services included in the calculation refer to school places, play areas and affordable housing.
Particularly worrying is the fact that developers fight for a minimum contribution to essential infrastructure before getting their planning permission and still return any number of times to ratchet even those downwards still further. This is particularly galling where developers return after the system of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) payments is introduced. Because CIL is mandatory, it is set low. The viability assessments then leave us with a little for additional essential costs arising because of the new residents. Developers can return and not be charged CIL because that can only be charged on the first application, but they still get the other costs reduced with some very large sums handed back; so our communities lose twice.
The proposal to review the Local Plan every five years may add to the bureaucracy and an additional call for new land every five years. Agriculture seems undervalued, as subsidies for farming reduce, adding a further incentive to grow houses instead of crops. Food security and the value of good agricultural land was in the NPPF, though weak, included in the balance where the “adverse impacts significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits”.
The consultation is out now open. In the meantime, I have written to the Secretary of State to see if we can campaign for the loophole to be closed and get improvement in the contributions to the community. You may like to do the same or similar!
The Group Office will be offering a £50 prize to the best picture of a Group member doing good councillor work in their community. You can submit by emailing the office directly (Independent.GroupLGA@local.gov.uk), or by tagging @LGA_Independent to your tweet.