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Future Wales – the future starts now

Future Wales – the future starts now

Gareth Williams 10 Dec 2020
Future Wales is due to be approved by the Senedd in 2021 and will then form the top tier of the development plan system in Wales. The draft document is strong on vision and identifies a series of positive outcomes such as: “A Wales where people live in distinctive regions that tackle health and socio-economic inequality through sustainable growth.”  It is difficult to argue with these ambitions but the document is very light on how these outcomes are to be delivered. Instead, the land use elements of these outcomes will need to be developed in forthcoming Local Development Plans (LDPs) and eventually in the Strategic Development Plans (SDPs) once the new Corporate Joint Committee governance arrangements are in place. The policy approach to delivering more positive economic outcomes for Wales are to be led by Chief Regional Officers  who will be responsible for delivering Regional Economic Frameworks. Future Wales states that SDPs should take strategic locational decisions on housing, economic growth, key services and essential infrastructure that will help support growth deals and Regional Economic Frameworks. There is a logic to a strategic approach linked to the City Region and Growth Deals. The land use planning process has however already been left behind, particularly in SE Wales and the need for essential investment cannot be put on hold pending the production of SDPs which currently don’t even have a timescale. Previous experience of strategic planning in the UK demonstrates that this is not a straight forward process particularly where difficult political choices need to made that will see investment directed to one local authority ahead of another. In the meantime there is an urgency to secure investment to address the very real current social and economic crises. The land use planning process must play a role in this process and we can’t await production of the SDP before we allow the necessary investment decisions to be made. A new round of LDPs are in the early stages of production and have understandably been hampered by the limitations arising out of the Covid restrictions. In the absence of SDPs it is essential that we now push these plans forward quickly to provide the necessary framework for new investment decisions. These must include strategic allocations which are the proposals most likely to bring transformational benefits through their scale of investment and ability to deliver supporting infrastructure. It must be remembered that plan making is not the end of the process and that new development will still need to secure planning permissions, discharge pre-commencement decisions and open sites up before the benefits of new development can be delivered. LDP preparation is due to be accelerated but is still likely to take 3 to 4 years. Lead-in time from submission of a planning application to first occupations can take a similar timescale for major sites. This means that, even with a fair wind, major sites currently being put forward as candidate sites may be at least six years away from delivery. It is essential therefore that there is flexibility in the existing process to allow new development ahead of LDPs being adopted. PPW, Future Wales and existing LDPs provide a framework within which development proposals can be considered in the short term. The placemaking agenda has been at the heart of Welsh Government’s agenda and the need for all new development proposals to take account of the place making principles is reiterated in the Future Wales document. It is important that we don’t bring down the shutters to new development in the short term and force investors away from Wales. My conversations with local planning authorities, particularly those with aging LDPs, indicate that there is a recognition of the social and economic benefits that new development brings and that we do need to consider windfall development of a suitable scale ahead of the next round of LDPs.         A recent appeal decision by the Minister for Housing and Local Government at Bedwellty in Caerphilly CBC [Minister’s letter ref:qA1399761] is a major cause for alarm by suggesting that new development should not come forward on greenfield windfall sites until the next round of LDPs are in place 3 to 4 years hence (and possibly longer in Caerphilly). The Minister refers in her decision letter to the reliance on a Plan-led system irrespective of the acceptance by the local authority that there is a lack of locally deliverable sites. Welsh Government’s own research in the ‘Longitudinal Viability Study of the Planning Process’ (2017) acknowledges that existing plans have failed to allocate sufficient deliverable sites. Accordingly, deliverability has rightly become a key focus of the new plan making process. However, development, particularly housing delivery, is required in the short term. Waiting on the next round of LDPs for new delivery also runs counter to Welsh Government own statement in ‘Building Better Places – Placemaking and the Covid-19 recovery’ (July 2020) that it will support decisions taken in the context of PPW and Future Wales where the LDP is silent or out of date. Clarification is urgently required from Welsh Government that it will support well considered schemes that reflect placemaking principles in the short term and will not simply require the development industry to take a pause for 3-4 years until LDPs are in place. It is inconceivable that any other sector of the economy would be asked to stop production for several years whilst a new economic strategy is prepared.    It is clear that the focus in Future Wales is very much on the public sector leading transformational change in Wales. Policy 3 deals with public sector leadership in supporting urban growth and regeneration whilst Policy 7 sets out how the Welsh Government will increase delivery of affordable homes. There is, however, no policy dealing with market housing delivery or a national employment land strategy for Wales. There is in fact very limited policy reference to the positive role that private sector investment can play in delivering the ambitions of Future Wales. Delivery of the positive socio-economic outcomes sought by Future Wales will require particular attention as we come out of the Covid-19 pandemic and face the uncertainty of a post-Brexit world. Whilst the role of a strong public sector will be important there is the real prospect of a tightening of public sector purse strings. It is therefore likely that major future investment will still need to be driven by private sector finance. This must be acknowledged in the way in which forthcoming LDPs and SDPs make land use allocations ensuring that sites are deliverable and where there are barriers that sources of public sector investment are clearly identified. Many local authorities are starting to build essential new homes and this is welcomed. Unsurprisingly, given the length of time since they have played this role there is need to build up knowledge and capacity to deliver. It will be many years before local authorities are able to build “at scale and pace”  as proposed by Future Wales and even then it is unclear what public sector resources will be available to fund this programme. Increased public sector housing delivery should, in my view, be in addition to supporting increased delivery of market homes, and not in place of it. Private housing enables delivery of positive social and economic outcomes both directly through the delivery of somewhere to live and associated physical infrastructure but also in terms of investment by construction firms and then by the spending of new residents in local communities. Lichfields estimate that for every 100 homes built there is direct investment of over £13 million, c.220 direct FTE construction jobs, and £3 million in spending by new residents. If we are to deliver the ambitious outcomes sought by Future Wales we need to start acting now. The way in which we consider and plan for develop does need to change and place making must be at the heart of this process. But there is a need to embrace these changes in the short term so that we start finding our way out of the economic and social turmoil that the combination of Covid-19 and Brexit has delivered. This is best addressed through constructive dialogue between the private and public sector about how delivery can happen now and not just in 6-8 years’ time. I discuss these and associated issues in further detail in our insight focus:

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TAN1: Gone but not forgotten

TAN1: Gone but not forgotten

Arwel Evans 09 Jul 2020
On 26th March 2020, the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Julie James, announced that Technical Advice Note 1 (TAN1: Joint Housing Land Availability Studies) had been revoked and that the Five-Year Housing Land Supply section of Planning Policy Wales had been replaced by an interim policy statement. She also announced that Edition 3 of the Development Plan Manual had been published. To summarise, the Five-Year Land Supply policy in Wales has been removed and replaced by a new method of monitoring housing delivery based on trajectories set out in Local Development Plans (LDPs). The requirement for decision makers to afford ‘substantial weight’ to the lack of housing delivery has been removed. This signifies a clear message from Welsh Government that a Plan-led approach to the delivery of homes is paramount with ‘speculative’ applications for residential development on unallocated sites outside of the settlement boundary not being looked at favourably. At face value, the new approach will make it harder for such sites to be promoted. Recent Planning Appeal Decisions There have, however, been some interesting appeal decisions that illustrate the Planning Inspectorate’s approach to matters of housing delivery following the change in policy. In summary, these decisions show that housing delivery remains an important consideration in determining planning appeals (and applications), especially in situations where the Local Plan or the Replacement Local Plan remains some distance from adoption. Figure 1 demonstrates the current progress of Local Development Plans in Wales. Figure one: LDP Current Progress (June 2020) Source: Lichfields Land south of Rhos Road, Penyffordd, Flintshire (APP/A6835/A/3243303) 36 dwellings for people over the age of 55 The unallocated appeal site lies outside the settlement boundary. In allowing the appeal on 27 April 2020 the head of the Planning Inspectorate in Wales, Tony Thickett, stated (paragraph 8): “The changes to PPW and revocation of TAN1 have not reduced the importance of delivering new housing, just the way delivery is planned, measured and monitored. PPW, as revised, states that: ‘Under-delivery against the trajectory may require a specific early review of the development plan’. In my view that is a clear indication that the government is committed to ensuring that the planning system delivers the housing Wales needs and that under delivery is a material consideration.” (Lichfields emphasis). Mr Thickett helpfully clarified that, despite the recent policy changes, the under-delivery of housing remains a material consideration. He then sets out matters to be considered in determining the weight to be attributed to under delivery, as follows: The extent of the shortfall; The length of time there has been a shortfall; and, How soon the Council will be able to demonstrate through an adopted LDP, how the housing needs of the area are to be met. He concluded that, in this case, the shortfall was significant both in terms of quantum and the amount of time that the housing land supply had been inadequate. The fact that the Unitary Development Plan (UDP) is time expired and that Flintshire’s first LDP[1] is still some 12-18 months away from adoption means that a Plan-led solution to the housing shortfall will not be forthcoming in the near future. Against this context, the Inspector accepted that the site is needed to provide a short-term solution to the housing supply issues. Land North of Highfields, Coedely, Tonyrefail (APP/L6940/A/20/3246396)76 dwellings Similar to the Penyffordd appeal, this site also lies outside the settlement boundary and is set in the context of an LDP that is nearly time expired with very limited progress made on a LDP review[2]. In allowing the appeal on 12 June 2020, Inspector Joanne Burston explained at paragraph 44 that: “….the current 5YHLS situation is serious in that there is a significant shortfall. Consequently, while the proposal would be contrary to the development plan taken as a whole, material considerations indicate that the determination should be otherwise than in accordance with that plan.” Again, the Inspector notes the recent changes to national policy and guidance and states at paragraph 33 that: “Given the revocation of TAN 1 the decision maker has the discretion, based on the evidence and facts of the appeal, to determine the weight to be applied to housing need. In the case before me the Council accepts that they can only demonstrate a housing land supply (HLS) of 1.3 years. In this respect I also note the appellant’s evidence that there has been a persistent under delivery in the supply of housing for some 13 years and that this is likely to continue given the projected timescale for the adoption of the LDP Review.”  (Lichfields emphasis). Interestingly, the Inspector actually made use of the five-year supply method to quantify the shortfall. This is likely to be a reflection of the fact that appeal was made prior to the revocation of the five-year land requirement policy and evidence was presented in respect of this matter. The Inspector used this evidence to highlight the severity of the housing land supply problem in Rhondda Cynon Taf County Borough and the need for intervention. We would not, however, expect to see detailed discussions about the five-year housing land supply position in planning appeal decisions going forward. In explaining the need for the site, the Inspector went on to highlight revised paragraph 4.2.12 of PPW which states: “…that planning authorities should also identify when interventions may be required to deliver the housing supply, including for specific sites.” The Inspector clearly felt that allowing this appeal represented a suitable intervention that would assist in the delivery of housing supply in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Land west of Bryn Isa, Vicarage Lane, Gresford, Wrexham (APP/H6955/A/19/3240973)44 dwellings This appeal was dismissed on 24 April 2020 mainly on green wedge impacts but nevertheless contains a useful commentary here about the consideration of housing land supply, particularly in relation to the weight to be given to an emerging LDP in remedying the lack of housing delivery. The Inspector (Joanne Burston again) explained that the decision maker has discretion, based on the evidence and facts of the appeal, to determine the weight to be applied to housing need. In this case the Council again agreed that there was a shortfall of housing land supply but argued that it was taking steps to address this through the emerging LDP. However, in respect of this point, the Inspector stated (paragraphs 36 and 37): “Whilst the eLDP is at an advanced stage, I am mindful that the Plan’s examination is still ongoing, and the Inspectors are yet to submit their report. In such circumstances I consider that only limited weight can be given to the eLDP.   Nonetheless, it is not for me to make a judgement on the outcome of the ongoing LDP examination. Therefore, as it stands there is a need for housing, a matter which weighs significantly in favour of the appeal.” (Lichfields emphasis). This decision is helpful in noting that until the LDP is found sound then it cannot be concluded that the Council is taking reasonable and timely action to remedy the lack of housing delivery. In the context of the current state of play in respect of LDP preparation and review across Wales, this conclusion will cause some concern for many authorities. Conclusion and takeaway These appeal decisions (all issued after 26 March 2020) are both timely and helpful in demonstrating that housing delivery is still an important consideration. We have not identified any planning appeal decisions in which the revocation of the requirement to demonstrate a five-year housing supply has directly resulted in the housing need case being rejected by an Inspector. Whilst the weight to be given to the under-delivery of housing is now a matter for the decision maker and will depend on the circumstances of each case, Inspector Thickett sets out some useful and logical parameters for considering the weight to be attributed to under-delivery. The appeal decisions should act as a warning to local planning authorities about the need to maintain an up-to-date adopted LDP and to ensure that housing delivery meets the trajectory. If housing delivery is insufficient and the LDP is out-of-date, then this (still) presents opportunities for developers to bring sites forward. Indeed, subject to site-specific considerations, local planning authorities should welcome such proposals at planning application stage as an appropriate short-term intervention. Opportunities should be sought to work positively with those authorities that have housing delivery issues, especially where sites are sustainably located, free from constraints and can demonstrate adherence with Planning Policy Wales’ placemaking principles. Contact Lichfields to discuss strategies for obtaining planning permission for housing sites in Wales.   [1] The statutory development plan in Flintshire is the Unitary Development Plan (adopted in 2011). The authority hopes to adopt its first Local Development Plan in the summer of 2021.[2] The statutory development plan in Rhondda Cynon Taf is the Local Development Plan (adopted in 2011). The end date of the LDP is 2021 and it is unlikely that a Replacement Local Development Plan will be in place until 2024 at the earliest.  

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