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Planning matters

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Planning Practice Guidance on housing for older people
Last week Government published new Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) on housing for older people and disabled people. This is a positive step, as it recognises that providing housing for older people is critical and that it needs to be considered from the early stages of plan-making through to decision taking. This recognition is particularly welcome given that (as our research: "Solutions to an age old problem: Planning for an Ageing Population" shows whilst nearly a quarter of the population will be aged over 65 in Great Britain by 2036, only 7% of Development Plans in England, Scotland and Wales include land allocations for housing for older people. It is well documented that there is a clear need for housing for older people. The planning system plays a fundamental role in ensuring this need is met. However, the new guidance remains loose on critical issues, leaving it open for LPAs to decide: whether or not to allocate sites for specialist housing for older people in their Development Plan Documents; the use class a particular development may fall into; and whether to monitor delivery through the Annual Monitoring review process. These are three key areas that our research highlights need clear and stronger guidance to aid the delivery of the right amount and type of housing for older people in the right places. Taking each in turn, our research highlights that whilst 60% of Development Plans identify a general need for housing for older people, only 14% have a specific policy relating to a requirement for need and only 7% actually include any land allocations specifically for this use. This can make it difficult for developers of older people’s housing to compete with general housing developers when bidding for land. Including allocations in Development Plans would provide more certainty for both the Local Planning Authority and developers alike. Whilst PPG states that LPAs do not have to allocate sites for housing for older people, the PPG sets out that LPAs should provide clear policies to address the housing needs of older people. This includes how proposals for different types of housing for these groups will be considered. Lichfields' Carepacity Toolkit can assist in demonstrating the need for housing for older people and our research sets out how the planning system can help facilitate the delivery of housing for older people. In turn this can assist in identifying sites to be allocated to meet the identified need, or indeed brought forward through a planning application. In relation to Use Classes, the PPG acknowledges there are many types of housing for older people but does not include a definitive list. Nor does it provide any definition of what type of housing for older people falls in Use Class C2 and which better aligns with Use Class C3. As highlighted in our research, this causes uncertainty and can have financial implications for developers. Our review of 23 appeal decisions for older people’s accommodation in 2019 showed that there are many different factors that are taken into consideration in relation to what Use Class an older peoples housing development falls within and the conclusion on an appropriate use class often proved critical to the outcome – for example whether or not an affordable housing contribution should be provided. Our appeal review also demonstrated the importance of fully addressing the planning balance as a whole, over and above demonstrating the need with 17 of the appeals being dismissed (totalling 588units) with refusal reasons including: Eight - related to design and amenity Two - related to affordable housing Three - related to impact on countryside / Green Belt Four – related to policy conflict (employment allocation, rural exceptions, lack of community support, no evidence of need). Where five year housing land supply (5YHLS) was cited: three LPAs had no 5YHLS and were still dismissed two LPAs had a 5YHLS, one being allowed and one dismissed. This review demonstrates that there are many factors that help determine what Use Class a scheme falls into and it is not clear cut. Design and amenity remain important with many inspectors considering massing, amenity space for residents and impacts on neighbours. Turning to monitoring, only 16% of LPAs in England and Wales monitor delivery of housing for older people. Given the critical need to ensure that enough good quality housing for older people is provided to meet the growing ageing population’s need, it is vital that, as an industry, we monitor delivery to ascertain whether the need is being met. PPG refers to this but again does not make it a requirement. To conclude, whilst the new PPG is a positive step in the right direction, acknowledging the clear role that the planning system has in the delivery of housing to meet the needs of our growing ageing population, it does not go far enough. It should be made abundantly clear to LPAs that it is a requirement rather than an expectation that Local Plans identify and allocate sufficient land to meet the housing needs of older people.

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NPPF Consultation - A North East Perspective
Since the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and related documents were published for consultation, like many others I have been pouring over the text to understand what the proposed changes could mean for the development industry.  We’ve presented at public and private sector seminars to summarise the proposed changes and importantly, try and provide some analysis and insight into what these changes could mean, specifically for the north east of England.  The consultation, amongst its many other objectives, is seeking to speed up plan making - with one proposed change relating to one of the tests of soundness shifting from requiring a plan to be “the most appropriate strategy” (paragraph 182) to “an appropriate strategy” (paragraph 36). But could this lead to a reduction in the quality of plans in an effort to speed up production? The language used throughout the draft NPPF and accompanying consultation documents makes clear that housing requirements are ‘the minimum starting point’. Importantly it clarifies that plan making authorities should work to ensure that cross-boundary strategic matters, such as unmet housing need, are dealt with now rather than deferred. The newly introduced statements of common ground (SoCG) are intended to assist here (they will effectively support the Duty to Cooperate).  Whilst this emphasis on housing numbers being the minimum starting point (Revised Draft NPPF paragraph 61) and the need to ensure strategic needs are planned for now (paragraph 36) are welcomed, it really isn’t clear how effective this approach will be. Ultimately, SoCG are not required in law and draft paragraph 11 (b) i and ii recognises there are constraints on meeting development needs. Lichfields’ series of Insights and blogs on the revised draft NPPF summarise the proposed changes in more detail.  Turning to what this could mean for the north east: what became clear from speaking at recent seminars was the inherent importance of ensuring that the region’s economic strategies and aspirations are supported by appropriate housing delivery. Critically the people involved in helping to realise these aspirations - now, more than ever - must ensure there is a holistic approach taken, with plan makers needing to ensure that policies realise and plan for the intrinsic and inextricable link between economic growth and housing.  Whilst there have been no fundamental changes relating to the proposed standard methodology requirement for assessing housing need since the last consultation (‘Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places’, November 2017), it is important to elaborate on how the housing requirements that will be generated by the methodology will only be a starting point. This is implicit in the Government setting a target of at least 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020’s. Yet the Government has been consulting on a standard methodology that would only deliver 87% of this total. In the north east, delivering only the standard methodology requirement compared to the current local authority-produced assessments of housing need could lead to less land being allocated for housing delivery which could translate to around 1,370 fewer homes being built each year, as shown on figure 1. The biggest reductions would be in Darlington (60%), Middlesbrough (37%) and Newcastle upon Tyne (36%). The economic implications of this shift are potentially substantial.  A reduced level of housing growth would not support the jobs’ growth sought in the two Local Economic Partnership (LEP) areas; they currently aim to create 25,000 new jobs in the Tees Valley by 2026 (Tees Valley Strategic Economic Plan (SEP)) and 100,000 in the north east LEP area by 2024 (North East SEP).  The revision to the draft Planning Practice Guidance now refers to: “Circumstances where an uplift will be appropriate include, but are not limited to; where growth strategies are in place…” (Draft PPG, page 26). This is to be welcomed when compared to the previous ‘Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places’ consultation which simply set out that:  “Plan makers may put forward proposals that lead to a local housing need above that given by our proposed approach. This could be as a result of a strategic infrastructure project, or through increased employment (and hence housing) ambition as a result of a Local Economic Partnership investment strategy” (Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places, paragraph 46). However, the revised wording does not go far enough to require that objective assessment of need is sufficient to deliver the housing required to achieve economic-led strategies identified by local authorities or LEPs. Without this detail, the risk remains that local authorities may shy away from delivering the housing needed to support their economic aspirations. Coupled with the Housing Delivery Test which only introduces sanctions if 5% of the housing requirement is not met, and most significantly a new route to the Presumption in favour of Sustainable Development if delivery falls below 75% of the requirement (following the transition period), this could mean that as a region, a further 340-1,690 homes would not be built each year (if only 95% or 75% of the standard methodology housing requirement were to be delivered).  The economic ramifications of this are clear, as shown in table 1.   As many local authorities in the north east are currently preparing their plans, it is imperative that the LEPs scrutinise emerging policies and allocations, and they are closely engaged in their production, to ensure that the amount of housing planned for is sufficient to support the economic growth that this region so desperately needs. If the north east is to achieve its economic aspirations, including job growth, then it is imperative that this happens.  See our other blogs in this series: National Planning Policy Framework review: what to expect? Draft revised National Planning Policy Framework: a change in narrative NPPF consultation proposals – what could they mean for town centres? NPPF consultations – what could they mean for designers? Draft NPPF: heritage policy is conserved… Draft NPPF: implications for aviation? Draft NPPF: Business as usual? Draft NPPF: more emphasis on healthy and safe communities Lichfields will publish further analysis of the consultation on the revised NPPF and its implications. Click here to subscribe for updates.

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