Gavin Barwell Housing Minister
Housing minister Gavin Barwell

Ministerial planning tweak ‘will do nothing to ease housing crisis’

A written ministerial statement by housing minister Gavin Barwell amending policies around housing supply has been met with scepticism by planning advisers to property developers in the region.

Barwell’s letter to chief planning officers on 13 December was designed to “offer more certainty to neighbourhood planning areas”.

The minister’s statement reinforces Neighbourhood Plans and sets a new three-year housing land supply test when dealing with areas that have Neighbourhood Plans in place.

Gavin Barwell Letter To Local PlannersDan Mitchell, partner at planning consultancy Barton Willmore in Manchester, said: “This is the latest in a long line of tinkering with the planning system and it sends out a mixed message. Government is seeking to reinforce its localism agenda and boost Neighbourhood Plans, whilst also encouraging housing development in those same communities. Whilst I suspect this somewhat clumsy intervention will be subject to legal challenge sooner rather than later, it will nonetheless act as a boost to those communities that either have or are working towards a Neighbourhood Plan and wish to oppose other housing schemes.”

Nick Lee, managing director, NJL Consulting, said: “Firstly, it is a statement not a change to the written policy, and this will only occur through the White Paper. It is essentially a knee-jerk reaction to local political pressure from within the Tory party. It does absolutely nothing to significantly boost the supply of housing and runs directly contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework.

“There is no reasoning behind dropping to a three-year supply. This is barely the time necessary for a site that has consent to be delivered. What will happen is quite simple. There will be an attempt locally to refuse planning applications even more often. This will lead to a rapid slow-down in housing supply; push up prices and simply not address the huge shortfall we still have and which this government tries to suggest it is doing everything possible to help. It is simply contradictory to its own stated policy.

“The only saving grace is that Neighbourhood Plans must have housing allocations for it to count. This could at least lead to some engagement by Parish and Local Councils to seek some degree of allocation, but I can’t see how this will be of such significance to in any way assist notably with housing supply. What would an allocation have to be in terms of scale? This is not known.

“The three-year supply point is easy for a local planning authority to show compared to a five-year supply, but this covers the whole Local Plan area, not a Neighbourhood Plan area. So, the local planning authority will be running two housing supply positions, one for five-years where Neighbourhood Plans don’t conform to the new rules, and three-year supply where they do. It’ll probably mean house builders will target those areas without a Neighbourhood Plan, or those without allocations or over two years old. A recipe for confusion and disaster.

“Planning by appeal will simply accelerate at a time when the average time for an inquiry is over one-year away. This does nothing to solve the housing crisis and the government must rethink its position.”

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