In wider updates to the Planning Practice Guidance (‘PPG’), a new section on ‘Housing Supply and Delivery’ has been published. It mostly incorporates existing content from the now much reduced ‘Housing and economic land availability assessment’ section.
In this first blog overviewing the new PPG section, I take a look at key changes regarding deliverability, ‘clear evidence’, and minor clarifications as to how to calculate five-year housing land supply (‘5YHLS’), which will to some extent help clarify matters following a series of divergent approaches in recent appeal decisions.
The definition of deliverable in the revised NPPF (July 2018 and its February 2019 update) introduced a more rigorous approach to assessing whether a Local Planning Authority (‘LPA’) could demonstrate a 5YHLS. It represented a critical step towards the objective of “significantly boosting the supply of homes” as discussed in this recent blog. However, the PPG underpinning the assessment of a whether a site is ‘deliverable’ lacked clarity, a point seemingly conceded by the Government.
The primary new guidance, ref. ID 68-007, replaces former PPG paragraph ID: 3-036.
1) Additional guidance on what can form ‘clear evidence’
Referring to the type and form of information that can provide ‘clear evidence’ (or what the PPG now refers to as ‘further evidence’) to justify sites that fall within point (b) of the definition of deliverable (i.e. sites that have an outline permission for major development, or allocated sites), the new guidance has been fleshed out to indicate such evidence may include:
- “current planning status – for example, on larger scale sites with outline or hybrid permission how much progress has been made towards approving reserved matters, or whether these link to a planning performance agreement that sets out the timescale for approval of reserved matters applications and discharge of conditions;
- firm progress being made towards the submission of an application – for example, a written agreement between the local planning authority and the site developer(s) which confirms the developers’ delivery intentions and anticipated start and build-out rates;
- firm progress with site assessment work; or
- clear relevant information about site viability, ownership constraints or infrastructure provision, such as successful participation in bids for large-scale infrastructure funding or other similar projects.”
The guidance elaborates on and combines the bullet points from its predecessor. There are new references to ‘firm progress’ for the submission of an application or site assessment: still suggesting the need for some tangible evidence to be published/corroborated with developers. But gone is the specific reference to a ‘statement of common ground’ (SoCG), removing any suggestion that a SoCG is a pre-requisite for clear evidence on a site being deliverable – supporting the findings of the ‘Land to the South of Williamsfield Road’ appeal inspector.
The new guidance also states that to demonstrate a five-year supply “robust, up to date evidence needs to be available”. Combining this with the references to ‘current planning status’ suggests that the ‘Woolpit’ principles regarding the temporality of evidence to the base date should not be applied so strictly. The new wording could result in trajectories becoming more of a ‘living’ documents. But this does not address the problem where new evidence is used to retrospectively justify a supply position with an increasingly old base date, whilst not providing enough information to show forward visibility over the next five year.
2) Further clarification that the lists are ‘closed’?
The PPG appears to further clarify that types of sites not listed in the definition of deliverable (such as emerging allocation sites) are not types that can be considered ‘deliverable’. Its use of the word ‘namely’ in listing four types of site which require further evidence to be considered deliverable indicates the list is closed. Appeal decisions have generally been consistent in supporting a ‘closed definition’.
That said, in the recent Secretary of State decision at the ‘Former North Worcestershire Golf Club’ the Inspector accepts that sites that fall outside the definition of deliverable could be deliverable if there was evidence that housing completions will occur within the five-year period. However, whilst the Inspector’s conclusions were based on the old PPG the actual Secretary of State decision was issued after the new guidance was published. Consequently, there remains ambiguity on this point.
Removal of guidance related to local benchmarks for lead-in times/delivery rates
A key part of any five-year land supply assessment is considering how quickly deliverable sites will deliver new homes: how long will they take to deliver completions and at what build rate. Former PPG paragraph ID: 3-047 had stated:
“Local planning authorities may need to develop a range of assumptions and benchmarks to help to inform and test assessments. Assumptions can include lapse/non-implementation rates in permissions, lead-in times and build rates, and these assumptions and yardsticks can be used to test delivery information or can be used where there is no information available from site owners/developers to inform the assessment. Assumptions should be based on clear evidence, consulted upon with stakeholders, including developers, and regularly reviewed and tested against actual performance on comparable sites. Tables of assumptions should be clear and transparent and available as part of assessments” (my emphasis).
This paragraph, and any reference to the need to develop local assumptions (i.e. regarding lead-in times and delivery rates), has been removed from the PPG. While it is ought to be obvious that assumptions over how much sites will deliver in the five-year period should be based on robust evidence, the lack of guidance on this point is unfortunate.
Further minor clarifications
Pepper potted throughout the new section are various clarifications about technical issues that can mostly confirm what has become common practice over the past twelve months. While many could be seen now as ‘stating the obvious’, these clarifications remove any ambiguity there might have been and presumably answer questions that had been posed to MHCLG.
- Clarification that sites that fall within point (a) of the definition of deliverable are “deliverable in principle” (ID: 68-007).
- Buffers are not cumulative (ID: 68-022) and should be applied to any backlog accrued (ID: 68-031)
- Further clarification as to why backlog is not added where the standard method is used (ID: 68-031).
- Clarification that whether an LPA can or cannot demonstrate a 5YHLS has no bearing on the Housing Delivery Test results (ID: 68-033).
- Confirmation that consequences of the HDT (i.e. 20% buffer and action plan) apply concurrently (ID: 68-042).
Interestingly, the guidance does not clarify whether an ‘oversupply’ of housing in the early years of a local plan should affect calculations of housing land supply, a topic that was the unresolved subject of a recent High Court judgment.
Image credit: Woodland Animations Ltd, a DreamWorks Animation Company
 As explained in its February 2019 response to Question 5 of its earlier consultation: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/779792/LHN_Gov_response.pdf APP/E2001/W/18/3207411 APP/W3520/W/18/3194926, DL70 APP/P4605/W/18/3192918 (IR14.47) Annex 2, NPPF Tewkesbury Borough Council v Secretary of State for Communities Housing and Local Government & Ors  EWHC 1775 (Admin) (08 July 2019)