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Rolling out the roll-back

Rolling out the roll-back

James Cox 18 Oct 2019
Many of us who studied Physical Geography at school or university will remember Yorkshire’s Holderness coastline as providing a classic case study as to the impacts of coastal erosion. This infamy is well-founded and media coverage often reminds us of the devastating impacts that the UK’s fastest eroding coastline continues to have on everyday lives. Within the East Riding of Yorkshire, local press reported in March 2019 that up to 230 homes could fall into the sea during the next nine decades, as well as more than 500 holiday chalets, statics and touring caravan pitches. More recent articles report how in Withernsea, there are just five metres of clifftop to go before East Riding Council will need to shut a road that will, effectively, cut off 55 homes as well as hundreds more holiday chalets. Yorkshire is not alone in this battle, with similar stories being reported in Norfolk, East Sussex and West Wales to name but a few of the other areas of the UK most severely impacted by erosion. Whilst coastal defences provide a useful and important role in many local planning authorities’ response to these issues, they are often impractical or unviable and present significant cost to the public purse (as, indeed, do decisions not to protect the coastline). This leaves coastal activities and businesses literally exposed to the elements, putting their future viability at risk in areas where economic challenges are already well documented.So what else can the planning system do to help? Paragraph 167 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2019) puts the designation of Coastal Change Management Areas at the heart of its strategy for tackling coast erosion. Within these areas, paragraph 167 goes on to say that Local Planning Authorities should: a) Be clear as to what development will be appropriate in such areas and in what circumstances; andb) Make provision for development and infrastructure that needs to be relocated away from Coastal Change Management Area. In response to provision b), we have seen an increasing amount of coastal planning authorities adopt so-called “roll-back” policies as part of their development plans to proactively manage the hazard of coastal erosion at a local level. Typically, these policies establish the principle of a development that is at risk from coastal erosion being relocated to an alternative, lower risk location which – in other circumstances – may not normally be considered acceptable in wider planning terms. At Lichfields, we have recently relied on the application of a roll-back policy to successfully justify the relocation of a large number of caravan pitches at a Holiday Park on the east coast of Yorkshire. To do so, our planning submission needed to address a number of matters that were outlined within the pre-application response received from the local authority. First, was the need to quantify the level of erosion that was taking place at the Park which, given the sheer unpredictability of coastal activity, is as much an art as it is a science. That is to say, erosion rates can only ever be estimated, with storm events and rising sea levels all having the potential to dramatically accelerate these processes. This was observed first-hand, with the above photograph showing the aftermath of a winter storm event in which the cliff edge retreated by several metres over the course of a few hours. Second, was the need to demonstrate that the proposal was, indeed, a roll-back of existing pitches rather than simply an extension to the Holiday Park ‘via the back door’. This was achieved via a commitment to removing existing pitches from the rolled-back area (following the installation of new ones) and then restoring it back to its original, undeveloped state thereafter. This, at the subsequent planning committee, proved to be a very important factor in persuading Council Members to unanimously vote in favour of the application, against a not insignificant amount of local opposition. Had the roll-back policy not existed – and it is noted that the neighbouring coastal authority has no such provision within their adopted development plan - then the same proposal would simply have been considered as new development in the countryside, with other local plan policies and material considerations taking centre stage in the determination of the application. Would it still have been approved? Probably. But a scheme of a more contentious nature may not have been. Moreover, the fact that the roll-back policy did exist helped establish the acceptability of the principle of the proposal from the outset. This, in turn, gave the Holiday Park operator the confidence to respond to the threat of coastal erosion now and in advance of it adversely affecting their business or comprising the safety of its guests. This surely has to be what good planning is all about. Image credit: Alastair Tindle

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Welsh Government housing delivery proposals: Fixing the system or hiding its failures?
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: To remove the requirement in Planning Policy Wales for local planning authorities to provide a five-year supply of land for housing. To consequently revoke Technical Advice Note 1 (TAN1) in its entirety. 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?  

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