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Planning for growth in the North East

Planning for growth in the North East

Robert Dibden 28 Feb 2019
Article originally featured in North East England Chamber of Commerce.  As a profession, town planning plays a crucial role in identifying what development is needed and where, to meet the needs of both local communities and the economy. Key to this is a Local Plan, which should set out a framework for the future development of an area. At a time of increasing economic uncertainty, Local Plans offer an opportunity to establish a strong and long-term vision for new jobs and housing in regions like the North East. A Local Plan should provide certainty for communities, businesses and investors. Despite these obvious benefits, the latest research undertaken by Lichfields shows that, since the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012, only half of all local planning authorities have adopted a Local Plan. From its outset, the NPPF 2012 was expected to entail a ‘simpler, swifter’ planning system, with clear guidance on plan-making, a strong focus on the plan-led system, and a commitment to meeting the nation’s housing need. And yet after six years, and the publication of an updated NPPF in 2018, just half of all authorities benefit from a post-NPPF 2012 strategic plan. Indeed, as at 31 December 2018 almost a quarter of authorities we studied still have plans under examination, and 22% of authorities are yet to even submit a post-NPPF 2012 Local Plan. This is reflective of the picture in the North East – a region which stands to benefit more than most from a strategic and planned approach to development. Of the 12 North Eastern local planning authorities (encompassing those Council areas from Teesside to Northumberland), seven (58%) currently benefit from a post-NPPF 2012 local plan. Of the five authorities yet to adopt an up-to-date plan, Durham and Northumberland cover a significant proportion of the overall region and, to some extent, have been hampered by the complexity of their transition to unitary authorities in 2009. With the exception of Darlington, the other four authorities also all incorporate Green Belt designations which can act to constrain development. To meet its manifesto ambition of building 300,000 homes annually by the mid 2020s, the Government is committed to increasing the supply of housing through a plan-led system. Alongside other recent changes to national planning policy, the Government has also now introduced a statutory requirement to review, and if necessary update, the strategic policies of Local Plans every five years – or sooner subject to changes in local circumstances. This leaves over half of all authorities nationally needing to review their plans within the next two years. Again this has potential implications for the North East. Of the seven authorities which currently have up-to-date Local Plans, both Newcastle and Gateshead are required to review their plans in 1-2 years, and Middlesbrough within the next 12 months. Given the inconsistent plan progress under the NPPF 2012, the Government’s new reforms are clearly much needed to meet its housebuilding and plan-making goals. However, these increased expectations that plans will be kept up-to-date also brings challenges and higher workloads for local planning authorities. Whilst the preparation of a Local Plan must be led by a local planning authority, the process should ultimately be a joint endeavour in collaboration with local communities, developers, landowners and businesses. As the pressure mounts, let’s hope the North East can rise to the challenge and help to secure the investment our region needs. If you have any queries about Local Plan progress in your area, or wish to explore opportunities to promote your development through the plan-preparation process, please contact Robert Dibden. Durham’s Local Plan is currently subject to consultation until 08 March 2019, and Northumberland’s until 13 March 2019.

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Secretary of State insists on using the standard method to calculate housing land supply in Doncaster
Since the Government published the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) last year there have been a trickle of appeal decisions which have grappled with the intricacies of interpreting the NPPF and PPG in respect of the implications of the standard methodology for calculating a local authority’s housing requirement[1]. The Government’s intention was that the standard methodology should be applied in respect of assessing 5 year housing land supply immediately and local housing needs assessments based on the standard method should be applied in respect of strategic policy making as of the 24th of January this year. There are a few notable post revised NPPF appeal decisions regarding 5 year housing land supply including; Bamber Bridge in Preston[2] (August 2018) and Deerlands Road, Wingerworth in North East Derbyshire[3] (November 2018). However, the messages were ultimately confusing; the Inspector at Bamber Bridge suggested the standard method was subject still to a level of uncertainty, stating at paragraph 44 ‘Government guidance indicates the new methodology for assessing housing needs is incomplete and so it would be premature to make and rely upon such an assessment’ and the Inspector at Deerlands firmly stood behind the standard method in assessing 5 year housing land supply and noted the ‘clarity and consistency’ that the standard method provides. An all too common position of uncertainty has emerged in respect of the standard method which was ultimately introduced to simplify and expedite the process. However, on the 5th of February Hallam Land Management learned that their appeal regarding the Land East of Mere Lane, Edenthorpe, Doncaster had been allowed by the Secretary of State (SoS), who accepted his Inspector’s recommendation[4]. When determining the call-in application, the Secretary of State (SoS) has concluded that the standard method is the approach which must be applied in respect of assessing 5-year housing land supply. Ironically, the appeal (which started in September 2017 and concluded in January 2018) closed its September 2017 sitting on the day the Government published its consultation on the standard method, within ‘Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places’. There was a lot of evidence and examination of housing need in Doncaster at the Inquiry when it resumed in January 2018. Despite the Inspector’s report (1st November 2018) containing a detailed discussion of the debate, the SoS concluded in respect of the 5-year housing land supply position at paragraph 14 of his decision: “While he notes that the applicant has used an alternative approach to calculate the figure, the Secretary of State considers that the standard methodology should be used, in line with the Framework. Using this, the Secretary of State considers that Doncaster Council’s annual requirement is circa 600 homes per year, and that based on forecast levels of supply, they can currently demonstrate over 10 years supply of housing land” This decision clearly follows the transitional arrangements identified in the NPPF in respect of assessing 5-year housing land supply against the standard methodology and is clear how the Framework should be applied, in the current circumstances. Despite the 5-year housing land supply argument being superseded by the Government’s new approach in respect of assessing local housing need during the Inquiry, the appeal for Hallam Land Management in Doncaster was allowed. This is because the Inspector and the SoS determining that key policies of the Unitary Development Plan are out of date and that the tilted balance in respect of sustainable development stated in paragraph 11 of the Framework applies; an extremely long-winded wait for a great result.   [1] https://www.gov.uk/guidance/housing-and-economic-development-needs-assessment[2] APP/F2360/W/18/3198822[3] APP/R1038/W/17/3192255[4] APP/F4410/W/17/3169288

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