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Government launches important consultation on house-building targets

Consultation ImageWith all the events filling the news, you could be forgiven for missing an announcement that will have a major impact on house-building across England, and on Local Plans and strategic plans such as the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF). The Government is trying to resolve some issues that have cropped up around the planning rules. They have launched a public consultation and you have until 7 December 2018 to respond.

Housing numbers

Recent ONS household projections were taken by many as meaning that fewer houses need building than had been thought. Indeed, some places such as Cambridge didn’t need a single new home. We advised at the time that these were very unlikely to be translated into lower housing numbers, and so it has proven.

The government believes that treating the latest ONS household projections as house-building targets would not meet the need the country has, but would instead lead to fewer, bigger households living in more expensive homes built in the wrong places.

Their solution is simple: completely ignore the latest ONS household figures. Instead, use the 2014 household projections. Local authorities would not base new housing targets on the new numbers, nor would they be able to use them to argue for special circumstances. Everything else would remain unchanged and Local Plans would proceed as before. The result would be minimal changes to housing targets. In contrast, using the new ONS figures would see sharp falls in housing numbers, with places as diverse as The Wirral, Cambridge and Greater Manchester seeing big drops.

Housing land supply

The government proposes to clarify that alternative methods for calculating housing need are not to be used in determining planning applications and appeals. Instead they will only be used in developing strategic policies – and still only in exceptional circumstances. If accepted, this is likely to remove one source of argument over individual planning applications. No more would supporters or opponents of an application be able to point to the range of possible calculation methods: the one used in the plans is the one that counts.

The definition of deliverable

For local councils, what is considered as “deliverable” housing development is important and affects the five year supply. It can determine whether planning applications are granted or refused. If a local authority cannot demonstrate a five year supply of deliverable homes, planning permission is more likely to be granted.

The government wants to clarify what counts as deliverable.
• Major developments with outline planning permission will only count as deliverable if there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.
• For other (non-major) developments with outline planning permission, and for all sites with detailed/full planning permission, the homes should count towards the five year supply unless there is clear evidence that they will not be delivered within five years. This evidence could be that they are no longer viable, that there is no longer demand for them or the phasing plans for the development have them being delivered later.

Development requiring Habitats Regulations Assessment

Following a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling, the government proposes to amend the NPPF rules on habitats sites. If the proposal is adopted, the presumption in favour of sustainable development will not apply to a habitats site unless it has been properly assessed as having no adverse impact.

Have your say

This is an important consultation. The Government’s proposed solution is, broadly speaking, to find the easiest, simplest way to increase house-building and achieve its target of 300,000 new homes a year. Those opposed to this scale of construction may well prefer to see the new ONS figures used as the basis for future Local Plans. The team at BECG will be happy to help anyone with an interest in the Built Environment to assess and respond to this consultation.

You can see the Government consultation page here.

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