• Dangers lurking within EDDC new policy on housing paper

    3rd February 2013 | News | Claire
  • 3 February 2013

    Dear officers and development management committee members

    RE: Five year land supply – paper to Development Management Committee – 5 February 2013

    1. We have read Matt Dickins’ paper on the five year land supply situation, contained within the 5 February development management committee agenda papers, with great concern.

    1.1 We fully appreciate the very difficult position in which EDDC finds itself, following the two appeals at Feniton and Ottery St Mary and we understand that the planning policy team is doing its best to take action in an attempt to mitigate future costs to the council.

    1.2 We met earlier this week with a planning lawyer, a planning consultant and retired planning adviser.  All three expressed concerns about the paper and its ability to do more harm than good.

    1.3 The paper itself and its sudden increase in the overall Local Plan housing allocation, as well as the implicit instructions to the committee to prioritise land supply issues over other material considerations, would seem to be unnecessary.  It is likely only to aid developers in making a case for their applications needing to be approved.

    1.4 We have noted the revised recommendations that were published on 31 January, however, this does not fully address our concerns with the paper, which are twofold.  Firstly, relating to the five year housing supply and secondly, relating to the impact on the EDDC Local Plan:

    2. Impact on future planning decisions, relating to lack of a five year housing supply

    2.1 Recommendations in committee papers
    The implications for the committee relating to ‘endorsing’, rather than ‘noting’ the requirements to secure a six year land supply in recommendation 1, implies that members are agreeing to approve many more housing applications, as well as rubber-stamping increasing the Local Plan district wide housing allocation to 17,100.

    2.2 If this is the case (agreeing to approve many more housing applications because of the land supply problem) the committee could be said to have legally fettered its discretion in determining each application on its own merits.  This could be subject to legal challenge.  RECOMMENDATION: that this recommendation is altered to ‘noted.’

    2.3 Approving very high numbers of houses in a relatively short space of time would appear to be unachievable in terms of delivery, in buoyant economic times, let alone in a depressed economy. 

    2.4 We are unclear why Table two (page 38) contains no allocations against predicted build rates in three of the five categories of sites listed, in either the west end or the rest of East Devon.  Surely, there are many sites in the district with the potential to deliver housing within five years? 

    2.5 Without more predicted developments listed in this table, developers are likely to use this information against EDDC, placing it in an even weaker position.

    2.6 However, officers will need to assess sites on an individual basis to ensure that those they include will be certain to be delivered within a five year period.  RECOMMENDATION:  Insert more allocations in the categories in table two.

    3. Disaggregation approach (splitting the district in half in terms of housing requirements)
    The disaggregation approach has been a key plank of EDDC’s planning approach for many years and is mirrored in the Devon Structure Plan. 

    3.1 One of the risks of a lack of a five year housing supply, as Mr Dickins points out in his paper, is that the strategic sites at the west end may not come forward, because of large-scale ad hoc approvals in the rest of east Devon, which would not normally be approved.

    3.2 One of the reasons that the planning inspectors did not give the disaggregation approach very much weight is because it has not been written into planning policy nor formally agreed by the Council.  We appreciate that it is now written into the new draft Local Plan, however, until the new Local Plan can be given more weight, we RECOMMEND that the disaggregation approach is endorsed by the development management committee and full council, as an interim policy position.

    4. National Planning Policy Framework par 14 and footnote 9
    The paper submitted with 5 February agenda papers does not appear to take into account the restrictions on development set out in the NPPF as described below:

    4.1 The NPPF states that where the development plan is silent, absent or relevant policies are out-of-date permission should be granted unless:
    “Any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this framework taken as a whole, or specific policies in this framework indicate development should be restricted. 

    – The specific policies referred to are clarified in footnote 9, which states: “For example, those policies relating to sites protected under the Birds and Habitats Directives and/or designated as sites of special scientific interest; land designated as green belt, local green spaces, an area of outstanding natural beauty, heritage coast or within a National Park; designated heritage assets and locations at risk of flooding or coastal erosion.
    RECOMMENDATION:  Include this text in the list of recommendations.

    5. Devon Structure Plan
    We are concerned that approving large numbers of housing to secure a six year housing supply will undermine the Devon Structure Plan, which is in place until 2016.  What consultation has taken place with Devon County Council on this issue?

    6. Effect on East Devon Local Plan of increasing the district housing allocation from 15,000 to 17,100

    6.1 EDDC has just completed its final consultation on the Local Plan, which we are informed, is poised to be submitted to the planning inspector shortly. 

    6.2 Extensive public consultations have been undertaken. This paper proposes to make a significant change to the fundamental Local Plan policy of housing allocations.

    6.3 Notwithstanding the requirement for a five year supply of land for housing, plus a 20 per cent increase, the NPPF directs councils to bring forward early the housing provision NOT increase the overall housing allocation in the Local Plan. 

    6.4 You will note that this approach is to ensure that there is a realistic prospect of achieving a five year supply.

    6.5 Par 47 of the NPPF states:  “Where there has been a record of persistent under delivery of housing, local planning authorities should increase the buffer to 20 per cent (moved forward from later in the plan period) to provide a realistic prospect of achieving the planned supply and to ensure choice and competition in the market for land.”

    6.6 It is important to note that the 20 per cent is a buffer against uncertainty of delivery, not a requirement to build more houses.

    7. An increase in housing numbers will cause further delay in the Local Plan adoption. There are serious counter-productive implications for making such a fundamental change to the Local Plan at this stage.  Such a change will require a full public consultation, including recommendations about where that extra housing is located.

    7.1 This will have the effect of delaying an already delayed Local Plan, and will cause the five year supply problem to become more acute, as the plan takes longer to be adopted and the allocations
    within it, longer to be given due weight.

    7.2 We note that the planning inspector determining the Butts Road, Ottery appeal, did not ‘find favour’ (see para 2.1 page 36) with the Regional Spatial Strategy figures. In fact, he described the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) as carrying ‘little weight.’ All he did was argue that the RSS evidence was more robust. 

    7.3 However, the 2011 census reveals that the 2008 RSS held massively over-optimistic projections in terms of in-migration, and if EDDC aligns itself with RSS projections, the likelihood of achieving a five year land supply slips away even further.

    7.4 We also note that the government intends to abolish the RSS through the Localism Act, and that the south west RSS was never adopted.

    7.5 It is therefore difficult to see the case for adopting the RSS figures in the draft Local Plan.

    7.6 Any move by EDDC to not formally consult on the proposed extra housing numbers could trigger a legal challenge from the communities directly affected by the new housing allocations.

    7.8 RECOMMENDATION:  Retain the current level of housing in the draft Local Plan, at 15,000, to:
    – avoid delaying the Local Plan even further
    – comply with the NPPF par 47
    – make it the achievement of a six year supply within a reasonable timeframe, more achievable

    8. Timescales for starting building on grant of planning consent
    Currently, EDDC requires a start date from approval of outline applications, within three years.  We understand that this time limit is within the discretion of local planning authorities.  To speed up delivery and build rates, we RECOMMEND that the time limit for starting to build, following an outline approval, is decreased to one or at the most, two years.

    We very much hope that you will implement our recommendations, which are intended to put EDDC in a less damaging position that it currently is in.

    Best wishes
    Cllrs Claire Wright and Roger Giles