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Burnham means business on affordable homes

Burnham means business on affordable homes

Lauren Thompson 28 Jun 2017
My original plan was to write a blog on the outcome of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority Mayoral election on 4th May, Andy Burnham’s first month in office and the impact on the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework [GMSF]. So much for plans. These seemingly important issues have been completely dwarfed by the horrific terrorist attack that took place at 10:30pm on 22 May 2017 in Manchester. This was without question one of the most challenging scenarios that any public figure can face, particularly so soon after taking office. Prior to the attack, it may not have been obvious to all quite how important the mayoral race was to Manchester’s future, particularly in the context of the snap General Election on 8th June 2017. However, Andy Burnham’s actions in response to  all these events has brought the Mayor’s powers into sharp focus. Whilst not all Greater Manchester residents may be aware, the Mayor has control over the following: Policing: in effect, replacing the Police and Crime Commissioner. Fire service: previously managed on a Council by Council basis. Spatial planning: has a pivotal role in the adoption or otherwise of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. Housing: overseeing the administration of a £300m housing fund. Transport: tasked with road management responsibilities currently managed by TfGM including road safety, bus lanes and congestion as well as influence over bus services, the tram system and cycling schemes. Influence over NHS spending in Greater Manchester. Those that followed the news in the aftermath of the 22 May attack will be aware that Mr Burnham put his autonomous powers as Police and Crime Commissioner into action, regarding information sharing with the US. He was also one of the first public figures to spring into action following the Grenfell Tower fire in London on 14 June 2017, by calling for a meeting with all high-rise landlords to explain how they had to have their buildings safety-checked. Whilst the national press has described the minority Government asgoing from ‘strong and stable’ to ‘weak and wobbly’ in the face of the General Election results and the declining popularity of the Government following the handling of the Grenfell Tower fire, Andy Burnham’s popularity has stood strong. At a time of ongoing uncertainty nationally, Mr Burnham’s appointment does give a sense of stability to Greater Manchester, even though some of his more assertive pledges, e.g. for no net loss of Green Belt, were not popular (particularly as those in the industry don’t think the emerging Plan does enough to provide the homes and jobs Greater Manchester needs). We have already provided a synopsis of the GMSF and our views where we suggest that the GMSF does not go far enough, if the Northern Powerhouse is to succeed as a driver for economic growth in the North of England. However, Andy Burnham’s more strident comments were made when he was in full campaign mode and he has since stated he is broadly happy with the number of homes and jobs proposed. He also remains on board with the concept of the GMSF, unlike his Liberal Democrat opponent. As such, the development industry can breathe a collective sigh of relief that he won’t be throwing the baby out with the bath water any time soon. Moreover, whilst he is proposing to significantly reduce the amount of Green Belt allocations, this is a much watered down version of his ‘no net Green Belt loss’ pledge. Mr Burnham has put Salford’s Mayor Paul Dennett in charge of the Plan re-write, with the stated aim of prioritising affordable housing. However, there has been radio silence since the initial announcement and therefore much second guessing about what format the ‘radically re-written’ plan will look like. There is one matter that is almost certain; Paul Dennett has played a central role in the decisions which led Salford Council to publicly announce their intentions to build new council housing. It is probably no accident that Mr Burnham has appointed Dennett as the portfolio holder for housing, when one of his key pledges is to use the Housing Investment Fund to provide loans to councils and registered providers (RPs) to build affordable homes, including rent-to-own. Nationwide, there has been a trend away from council-owned housing over the last 30 years, with many local authorities opting to transfer their existing housing stock to RPs. It looks like Greater Manchester could be bucking this trend under Andy Burnham’s term. Mr Dennett’s public comments regarding affordable housing also closely align with another of Mr Burnham’s election promises – providing a mix of housing and reducing the perceived over-reliance on executive-style homes. Mr Dennett has previously suggested that the Government’s definition of affordable housing is out of touch with the reality for everyday people. This suggests that a range of low cost housing options could be on the agenda, which could be brought forward on greenfield sites and publicly-owned land. Affordable and low cost housing requirements could end up being toned down for constrained strategic sites and development on brownfield land, as Paul Dennett will be well-aware of the issues surrounding viability and affordability which have plagued many of the housing schemes that have come forward in his own authority’s area over the last few years. This is however conjecture at this stage, as details of the re-write have yet to be announced. Going forward, our view is that: Those initial Green Belt site allocations proposed in the first draft GMSF which do not score so highly on the sustainability appraisal within the integrated approach may be at risk of being removed; Developers should prepare for increased affordable housing requirements on allocated sites and / or providing a broader mix of housing; and, Further delays on the GMSF and final adoption date are almost inevitable. In summary, Andy Burnham has had an exceptionally strong start to his term in office, and others may have had difficulty navigating the challenges he has had to face.  We understand that he has yet to meet with the GMCA which makes it difficult to say with any certainty precisely when he will pick the reins back up. However, this is perhaps understandable given recent tragic events in Manchester and London, which have rightly pulled his attention in a different direction. For bespoke advice on the implications on the latest events regarding the GMSF and up to date information on its progress please contact our Manchester Office on 0161 837 6130.  Image credit: A.P.S. (UK) / Alamy Stock Photo

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On a dark December evening in Manchester, I delivered a presentation on ‘A Practitioner’s Perspective on the Neighbourhood Planning Bill’, concluding my presentation with a quip about five year housing land supply. Little did I know that some 200 miles away, Gavin Barwell (Minister for Housing and Planning) was addressing the same issue head-on, in a somewhat controversial ministerial statement to the House of Commons that took immediate effect. In his Statement, the Minister indicated that giving people more control over development in their local area is helping to boost housing supply but that communities are often frustrated that their neighbourhood plan is being undermined by their Council’s inability to maintain a five year housing land supply across the borough / district area. In order to build on the proposals to strengthen neighbourhood planning through the Bill, the Minister made it clear that where communities plan for housing in their area in a neighbourhood plan, those plans should not be deemed out-of-date unless there is a significant lack of housing land supply in the wider local authority area. He proposes that relevant policies for the supply of housing in a neighbourhood plan that is part of the development plan should not be deemed ‘out of date’ where all of the following circumstances arise at the time the decision is made: ‘This written ministerial statement is less than 2 years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for 2 years or less; The neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and The local planning authority can demonstrate a three year supply of deliverable housing sites.’ Case law is clear that Ministerial Statements can be material considerations[1] but that the weight given to them is a matter for the decision-taker on a case-by-case basis. An analysis of the possible implications of this latest statement for housing land supply issues arising from applications for residential development is set out below, in terms of development plan policy and the National Planning Policy Framework’s policies as a material consideration. Table 1: Possible Outcomes for Housing Applications in accordance with the Ministerial Statement Source: Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners The Government has already made it clear that amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill are being sought in the context of boosting significantly the supply of housing; as such it is no surprise that the Ministerial Statement is seeking to incentivise communities further to prepare and revise plans quickly and also to include policies for housing. The combined effect of all of these measures will almost certainly be a rush to achieve a positive referendum outcome, once communities are aware that their neighbourhood plans will have more influence when local planning authorities (and Inspectors) are determining housing applications. Our experience is that there is a high number of local planning authorities that have not consistently demonstrated a five year housing land supply, but far fewer fall short of a three year housing land supply. The recent trend for phasing housing in Local Plans, with some Council’s providing a lower housing requirement at the beginning of the plan period could be contributing to this. As such, the number of areas where neighbourhood plan policies could carry greater weight than local plan policies in the context of housing applications could be extensive. As part of the Manchester Office’s work for existing clients, we are aware of at least one council in the North West that has between 3 – 5 years housing land supply and a number of adopted neighbourhood plans. However, given the number of neighbourhood plans being progressed across the UK, the administrative areas where housing policies in neighbourhood plans could continue to apply is likely to be far higher. Figure 1: Neighbourhood Plans being Progressed Updated 4th January 2017 Source: Planning ResourceWe have previously reported in our Research Intelligence document: Early Adopters and the Late Majority that only 86 out of 139 local plans submitted for examination post-adoption of the National Planning Policy Framework have been found sound and of those, a third have been required to undertake immediate / early review. In comparison, another of our Research Intelligence documents has highlighted how neighbourhood plans are being prepared at such a pace that this is leaving local plans behind in some areas. National Planning Practice Guidance is clear that the most up to date plan carries more weight. In this context and given the cumbersome local plan process, developers and practitioners could be forgiven for thinking that this latest Written Statement, when taken with amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, is seeking to provide a ‘booster seat’ for the neighbourhood plan at the expense of the local plan. Whilst communities may well see the Statement as a further victory for neighbourhood planning following a succession of High Court ‘wins’ for neighbourhoods defending their housing policies (see East Bergholt and Ives) local planning authorities would be sensible to take a cautious approach at least for now, given that a group of 18 claimants - including housebuilders Redrow Homes and Linden Homes and land promoter Richborough Estates - has sent a judicial review pre-action protocol letter to the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG). The letter, issued by planning lawyer Stuart Andrews, partner and head of planning at Eversheds, calls Communities Secretary Sajid Javid to withdraw the Statement. Moreover, the publication of the Ministerial Statement could also promote legal challenges to neighbourhood plans where a plan has taken a ‘light touch’ approach to their evidence base supporting housing policies; Henfield[2] has been a warning to many neighbourhood planning bodies. Plans prepared in advance of local plans could be particularly vulnerable. If the Ministerial Statement is treated as a material consideration and universally applied for the next two years, it could have a marked effect on the location and distribution of housing across England -that is if neighbourhood planning bodies are have the resources to complete and update their plans quickly and diligently. Under these challenging circumstances, NLP is very well-placed to advise those with land interests in areas affected by a neighbourhood plan in a local authority area with less than a five year housing land supply. For more information, please contact NLP’s Manchester Office on 0161 837 6130. [1] Oxford Diocesan Board of Finance v SoS for Communities and Local Government and Wokingham B.C. [ 2013] [2]  Stonegate Homes Ltd & Anor, R (On the Application Of) v Horsham District Council [2016] EWHC 2512  

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