Welsh Government housing delivery proposals: Fixing the system or hiding its failures?

Planning matters

Our award winning blog gives a fresh perspective on the latest trends in planning and development.

Welsh Government housing delivery proposals: Fixing the system or hiding its failures?

Welsh Government housing delivery proposals: Fixing the system or hiding its failures?

Stephanie Irvine 11 Oct 2019
Planning for housing is not an academic exercise. An insufficient supply of deliverable housing land means not enough homes will be built. House prices will rise (further). Some people will be left without a home of their own. This is why it is of paramount importance that we have a planning system in Wales that works to deliver housing.
On 9 October 2019 the Welsh Government published its consultation document, “ Delivery of housing through the planning system: Revisions to Planning Policy Wales and associated advice and guidance. Responses are due by 20 November 2019.
The focus of the document is on responding to the perception that developers are taking advantage of the long-established five-year housing land supply policy (Planning Policy Wales). It implies that developers are disingenuously “querying” the deliverability of allocated sites, thereby reducing local authorities’ five-year land supply figures and swaying the planning balance in favour of obtaining permission on “speculative” sites – coded language for windfall sites, which the Welsh Government implies are undesirable.

Its key proposals are:

  1. To remove the requirement in Planning Policy Wales for local planning authorities to provide a five-year supply of land for housing.

  2. To consequently revoke Technical Advice Note 1 (TAN1) in its entirety.

  3. To replace the monitoring of housing land supply by the monitoring of housing delivery based on the Local Development Plan (LDP) housing trajectory, to be reported through the Annual Monitoring Report (AMR).

These latest proposed changes follow the Welsh Government’s disapplication of paragraph 6.2 of TAN1 in July 2018, which attached “considerable weight” to the lack of a five-year housing land supply as a material consideration in determining housing applications. (N.B. The disapplied paragraph did not state that this would be the overriding factor; in order to secure planning permission, proposals would still need to meet the principles of good planning and be assessed as sustainable.) This move, which was widely opposed by developers, left the matter of weight to be given to this factor to the discretion of the decision-maker when taken in the round as part of the planning balance. The lack of a five-year supply therefore remained (and still is currently) material to planning decisions. This is key to ensuring sites are brought forward to provide needed homes in the short to medium term.

If the requirement for a five-year supply is taken away entirely, there would be no policy basis for supporting development proposals according to their potential to fill unmet housing needs. With 19 out of 25 local authorities currently unable to demonstrate that they have enough housing land in the pipeline to meet needs over the next five years, there is a clear imperative to bring additional sites forward. If this is not happening through the plan-led system, surely measures should be kept in place to support the delivery of housing through other routes?

The Welsh Government proposals would also result in key differences in the way local planning authorities assess how their LDPs are performing and their obligations to rectify any deficiencies. Housing policies would be tested against the LDP trajectory, which would need to be updated each year through the AMR. The trajectory should set out the sources of housing land needed to meet the full housing requirement during the plan period plus a flexibility allowance (identified by the document as 10%). Delivery will be tested against projected annual and cumulative build rates based on the housing requirement (not including the buffer).

There would be no hard consequences for under delivery against the trajectory. Local planning authorities would need to consider performance against all indicators of the LDP collectively and to assess the magnitude of variance (a subjective assessment) before deciding on appropriate actions to be taken. Examples of these actions in the document range from providing training to officers or members to simply conducting “further research or investigation” to triggering an early review of the plan (a process which, as we know, takes years to complete).

The way in which the existing five-year supply requirement policy has been implemented has not proven adequate to deliver a sufficient number of homes through LDPs or otherwise, and this is clearly an issue that should be addressed. However, the proposals put forward in this consultation offer a significantly weaker approach, which is likely to yield even weaker housing delivery than under the current arrangements. 

The proposed changes outline a system whereby the impetus for local authorities to provide enough homes would effectively be relaxed, with no hard consequences for failing to deliver and no mechanisms in place to fill the gaps. Instead of identifying ways to make the plan-led system work, they would simply re-frame the metrics to make it look as if the system is working even if it is not and cut off the only available avenue for housing to come forward.

Is the current system so broken that it needs such a draconian restructure? True, changes are needed to support the delivery of housing through the plan-led system – where planning for all types of development can be considered holistically. But is the main problem an overreliance on windfall sites (in sustainable locations), or is it rather that an insufficient number of homes are being delivered to meet the needs of the nation?