How to Defend a Planning Appeal without a 5 Year Housing Land Supply

To speed up the delivery of housing the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) stipulates planning authorities should have a rolling 5 Year Housing Land Supply (5YHLS). The consequences for local authorities without a 5YHLS or an approved Local Plan is existing policies become out of date. Plans for new housing must be approved if they provide sustainable development but local authorities lose control of where the new housing is located. Central Bedfordshire Council would normally refuse planning permission if new development was at inappropriate locations, for example, outside existing settlement envelopes.

In Central Bedfordshire developers are appealing refusal of planning permission on the grounds Central Bedfordshire Council does not have a 5YHLS. To prevent the need to defend appeals the Executive member for Regeneration is intervening into the decision taking process of the Council’s Development Management Committee. Telling the Committee to approve housing development that does not accord with the Council’s current policy DM4: Development Within and Beyond Settlement Envelopes as the Council otherwise the Council would lose costly appeals because it did not have a 5YHLS.

Losing an appeal because a local authority has not got a 5YHLS is not inevitable. A recent court of Appeal Judgement; the ‘Hopkins Judgement’ cited below means Council’s without a 5YHLS can use current policy relating to the preferred locations of development to refuse planning permission.

The following is a representation from CPRE Bedfordshire to the Planning Inspectorate who will be hearing an appeal against Central Bedfordshire Council’s decision to refuse planning permission for housing at Cranfield. The representation and its supporting appendices show how in this particular case the Hopkin’s judgement can be used to defend a planning appeal.

APP/P0240/W/16/3164336 Land between Crawley Road and Bourne End Road Cranfield

CPRE Bedfordshire base this objection on the appellant’s submission to the Council (appendix-1) downloaded from the Council’s website on 25th January 2017.

The appellant justifies its appeal against the Council’s reasons for refusing planning permission by citing the Council’s 5 year Housing Land Supply statement 1st October 2016 (appendix-2). The statement shows the Council has a 4.89 year housing land supply. The appellant claims the Council’s policy DM4: Development Within and Beyond Settlement Envelopes is out of date by citing NPPF paragraph 49.

The appellant further justifies its appeal by citing NPPF paragraph 14. The appellant argues because the Council does not have a 5 year Housing Land Supply there is currently a shortfall in housing need of 211 dwellings across the whole of Central Bedfordshire and its development proposal provides benefit by meeting this shortfall without any significant adverse impact.

CPRE Bedfordshire argue the Council’s policy can be given weight, there is not a shortfall in housing need specifically in Cranfield and the location of the development proposal does have a significant adverse impact.

CPRE Bedfordshire justify the Council’s policy is not out date by citing the content of a planning appeal for up to 30 dwellings at Brook Farm, 94 High Street, Wrestlingworth, Bedfordshire, APP/P0240/W/16/3150607 (appendix-3). The appeal was dismissed because the Inspector gave weight to policy DM4 because of a Court of Appeal Judgement for ‘the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Hopkins Homes Ltd (2016)’ (Hopkins Judgement). The Inspector’s reasons for giving weight to policy DM4 and refusing outline planning permission are explained in the Wrestlingworth decision.

CPRE Bedfordshire justify there is not a shortfall in housing need specifically in Cranfield by citing Office of National Statistics (ONS) Census Statistics 2011 for the Parish of Cranfield (appendix-4) and approved planning applications for new housing in the Parish since  2011 by citing the Council’s Housing Trajectory 1st October 2016 (appendix-5). ONS statistics show there were 1900 dwellings in the Parish in 2011. The Council’s Housing Trajectory, page 4, lists 6 approved planning applications for housing in Canfield since 2011, 526 dwellings in total, across the development plan period.  The number of dwellings in Cranfield will increase by more than 25%.

CPRE Bedfordshire justify a significant adverse impact on the grounds set out in our objection to the Planning Application CB/16/02039/OUT Land between Crawley Road and Bourne End Road Cranfield (appendix-6) together with the Council’s reasons for refusal 1 and 2 set out by the appellant (appendix-1).

In conclusion the housing needs of Cranfield residents will be met over the development plan period therefore the proposed development is unnecessary. The policy DM4 can be used to determine planning applications and the location of the development on land at Cranfield will have significant adverse impact.

Central Bedfordshire Council, Green Belt and an Alternative Fact

There has been widespread speculation about changes to legislation concerning the Green Belt. Parliamentary lobbyists are putting increasing pressure on the Government to soften regulations controlling building on the Green Belt. Lobbyists are claiming the Green Belt is preventing developers building the houses our country needs. During the run up to the General Election 2015 the Government gave a manifesto commitment to protect the Green Belt and when entering office Secretary of State Sajid Javid MP said the Green Belt is ‘sacrosanct’. Lobbyists justify their point of view with Green Belt statistics and claims that parts of Green Belts across England are not worth saving.

Annually Central Bedfordshire Council provide the Department of Communities and Local Government with statistics about changes to their Green Belt. According to these statistics published between March 2009 and March 2016 ( found here Green Belt Statistics Table 2 2009 and here Green Belt Statistics Table 2 2016   ) the area of the Central Bedfordshire Green Belt remains unchanged at 28 200 Hectares. This statistic to use a current idiom is an ‘alternative fact’. An analysis of approved planning applications for developments in South and East Central Bedfordshire shows 677 Hectares of Green Belt has been lost:

Houghton Regis North Planning Applications
CB/12/03613 262 Hectares
CB/15/00297 166 Hectares
Leighton Buzzard East Planning Applications
CB/11/01937 95 Hectares
CB/11/04444 22 Hectares
CB/11/02827 114 Hectares
CB/11/01940 18 Hectares
Total 677 Hectares

The Council’s Draft Local Plan when published is likely to propose more development on its Green Belt together with unprecedented levels of development within and around its rural towns and villages. If the scale housing developments are similar to those proposed in the Council’s failed Development Strategy then at least a further 615 Hectares of Green Belt will be lost.

As the Council is politically aligned with Government the Council’s choice to build on the Green Belt is clearly at odds with Government’s manifesto commitment and its national planning policy. The Council therefore is very likely to lose the votes of people ‘Escaping to the Country’ who thought living in the Green Belt meant they would be free from unnecessary large scale development impacting their rural way of life. Clearly the Council’s ‘alternative fact’ is means of avoiding criticism of its choice to build on the Green Belt and preventing a substantial number of votes from being lost.

 

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council and the New Homes Bonus

My recent Blog Posts looked at the implications for revenue and capital budgets and ultimately the council Tax payer if Central Bedfordshire Council were not to receive the Government and housing development income it has forecast. This post sets out the implications for residents due to changes in the Government’s New Homes Bonus (NHB) funding stream.

The New Homes Bonus was introduced in 2011 to provide a clear incentive for local authorities to encourage housing growth in their areas. It rewards local councils for each additional home added to the council tax base including newly built properties and conversions as well as long term empty properties brought back into use.

The New Homes Bonus is not ring-fenced and is grant paid by Government which allows local authorities to decide how to spend it, for example on frontline services or keeping council tax down, as Government recognises that local authorities are in the best position to make decisions about local priorities. Local authorities are expected to engage with their local community to decide how the money is spent, so residents feel the direct benefits of growth. Over the duration of the New Homes Bonus scheme the Council has been in the top 20 of all 350 local authorities receiving the bonus. According to recently published Department of Communities and Local Government figures the total bonus the Council will have received by the end of 2017 is £11 656 884.

The Council will publish its draft Local Plan towards the end of March. The plan is set to increase housing development to unprecedented levels because the Council has chosen to build more houses than are needed to meet the population growth needs of the people of Central Bedfordshire. Approximately 55% of the housing proposed in the draft Local Plan will be for people from London, North Hertfordshire, Luton, and Milton Keynes. The impacts of housing development on Central Bedfordshire’s towns, open spaces, the green belt, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, heritage and natural assets will be disproportionately high compared with other authorities nearby, for example Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Clearly the Council wants to continue to approve unnecessary, unwanted and harmful development to secure more New Homes Bonus from what will become an increasingly smaller funding stream. As the number of houses built in Central Bedfordshire increases and the amount of New Homes Bonus decreases the pressure on the Council Tax payer to provide funding to support unnecessary development and road infrastructure will increase.

On what services has the Council been spending its New Homes Bonus? Over the first 5 years of this funding stream the Council has levied 0% Council Tax to the detriment of its adult social healthcare provision.  Has the Council engaged with the local community to decide how the New Homes Bonus is spent? Have you been asked what services you want the bonus spent on? Has your community directly benefited from the New Homes Bonus? Currently Parliament is being petitioned by campaign groups across the country. The petition asks Parliament to ‘Give communities back the right to decide where house are built’. If you agree you can sign the petition here at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/177333

Additionally the Council’s track record on engaging with the people of Central Bedfordshire on how other funding streams are spent is woeful. Recently the people of Potton have had unwanted development foist upon them and any S106 funding from this development earmarked for spending on infrastructure developments in Biggleswade. The Council has also steadfastly failed to introduce a Community Infrastructure Levy scheme that would benefit communities with Neighbourhood Plans and that would give them direct control on what the levy is spent on rather than the Council deciding on how the levy should be spent.

The Government intends to stop the New Homes Bonus for housing approved on appeal. The consequence of this has been the approval of unnecessary and harmful development in Potton and Blunham. As the Council has chosen to meet the housing growth needs of other local authorities the Council currently does not have a 5 year housing land supply. Recently the Council has lost an appeal against its decision to refuse planning permission for housing at Flitton. One reason for losing the appeal was the lack of a 5 year housing land supply. The portfolio holder for Regeneration and his deputy recently intervened in the Development Management Committee’s decision making process. The committee were about to decide whether to approve housing at Potton and Blunham. Both the portfolio holder and his deputy told committee members to approve both developments because if the committee were to refuse planning permission developers would appeal their decision on the basis of a lack of a 5 year housing land supply and as a consequence the Council would lose New Homes Bonus income.

Reply to Cllr Wenham on the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget 2017-2021

Thank you for your reply restating what you have already explained in your previous comment to me. I hope you don’t mind if I published your comments?

The capital budget is based on estimates of costs and forecasts of income.  Section106 income in the capital budget cannot be guaranteed as the amount of s106 is negotiable and contingent on the viability of each quanta of development and the timing of its delivery, and may in turn affect the proportion of affordable housing each quanta of can deliver. Also currently there are restrictions on the size of the s106 item pool that can be held by the Council before the funding has to be spent.

My substantive point is the Council tax payer will have to underpin the costs of capital if forecast levels of income aren’t realised as the Council is clearly planning to borrow capital in advance of receiving forecast income. To put it another way if income was certain in amounts and their timing there would be no need to borrow money to fund roadway infrastructure in the first place.

It is interesting what you say about Woodside Link Road funding as it appears that although developer funding is substantial that quanta of funding does not meet the entire costs of the link. So how is the shortfall going to be funded?

According to the planning Inspector presiding over an appeal (APP/P0240/W/16/3154220) concerning the Council’s decision not to give planning permission to housing development in Flitton, the council is nowhere near achieving a 5 year housing land supply, as much of the housing development at Houghton Regis North cannot realistically be delivered within a 5 year period that started over 18 months ago.

 

Reply from Cllr Wenham on the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget 2017-2021

Thanks for your follow-up email dated 19thJanuary 2017 regarding the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget (2017-2021) Consultation.

As previously identified, it is not considered that there is any discrepancy in the estimated costs of the M1-A6 Link Road. Rather, the initial thoughts on the potential costs were identified based upon the most relevant and up to date information available at that time.  Since then, further work has been undertaken and a revised cost of £55.855m has been identified and this is therefore, the amount identified within the Council’s Capital requirements for 2017-2021 as it is considered to be the cost of the scheme at the current time.  As previously identified, £11 million towards the cost of the scheme has been secured through the Local Growth Fund (Round 2) and is guaranteed, and a further £31m is currently being sought through Round 3 – we are awaiting a Ministerial announcement on this which is expected to be made in February. Work to identify the final costs of the road are still ongoing, however, the remaining scheme costs would be reclaimed through developer funding and will not ultimately be paid by the Council.

The M1-A6 road scheme is a priority piece of infrastructure identified by Central Bedfordshire Council as needing to be in place in order for housing to be delivered within that location, and as such it has been identified as ‘critical’ within the Infrastructure Delivery Plan.  The scheme, which is also above a recognised £20m threshold and therefore a DfT retained scheme, is also deemed to be strategic by DfT as it supports the delivery of housing growth and employment. It is further supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP).

With regards to CIL, as previously commented, we are currently awaiting the outcome of the CIL review which is still underway but which is expected to identify significant changes to the CIL regulations.  Further, it is not possible to adopt a CIL charge without having a Local Plan also in place.  In relation to the 0% charge previously identified by the Council, this was applied to the strategic large-scale, mixed use developments identified within the Development Strategy, including North Houghton Regis.  However, that does not mean that new infrastructure required as a result of development, or any wider community benefits would not be realised.  These are to be provided directly by the developer through Section 106 Agreements.  It is also worthy to note that developer contributions as a result of the North Houghton Regis development has provided a significant quantum of funding towards the A5-M1 link road, the new Junction 11a and the new Woodside Link  – these not only allow the delivery of much needed housing growth within the southern part of Central Bedfordshire, but also enable significant improvements to be made to Dunstable town centre which will undoubtedly improve the quality of the environment for both existing and future communities as well as shoppers and visitors to the area.

In relation to the 5 year housing land supply, the Council is very close to achieving this through permitting developments which are considered to be policy compliant and in a sustainable location. By permitting appropriate developments and achieving a 5 year supply, the Council is in a much better position to refuse schemes that are not considered appropriate, are in unsustainable locations or are not policy compliant.

 

Reply to Cllr Wenham’s Letter on the Central Bedfordshire Council Budget 2017-2021

Thank you confirming there is a £43 145 000 discrepancy in the estimated cost of an M1-A6 Link Road. It is unusual for estimates of infrastructure costs to be revised downwards by such a large amount. You say the Council has secured £11 000 000 from the Local Growth Fund towards the cost of the link road. It appears the Council is yet to receive these funds from Government otherwise the link road’s Capital requirements 2017-2021 would be £44 855 000 instead of £55 855 000.  You go on to say the Council may get £31 000 000 from the Local Growth fund in the future. Unlike the A5-M1 Link Road the M1-A6 Link Road is not a Highways Agency project so from the Government’s point of view the link road is not ‘critical’ strategic infrastructure needed to ensure a national economic benefit. When the Government considers whether to fund roads like the M1-A6 link road its decisions will reflect its own priorities rather than Councils. If the Council does not receive Government or European Union funding the entire revenue costs and potentially the capital costs of the link road will be paid for by the people of Central Bedfordshire through further rises in Council Tax rather than sharing the cost of the link road with all United Kingdom tax payers.

I note you have not commented on the amount of CIL income lost since the Council failed to get its Development Strategy approved. The Council’s previously published draft CIL scheme sets a 0% levy for the developments at Houghton Regis North and Luton North.  These developments together with Leighton Buzzard East will be the largest in Central Bedfordshire and therefore potentially the largest revenue contributors to the Council’s funds. So if the Council’s new CIL scheme sets a 0% levy on these housing developments Council Tax will probably increase further. The Government intention is for CIL to benefit the people living in areas directly impacted by development. A 0% levy would mean Houghton Regis and Leighton Buzzard Town Council’s will have to manage the consequences of largescale housing developments without receiving CIL funding for developments within their communities. Currently the Council is failing to deliver a 5 year housing land supply and as a consequence is approving inappropriate housing developments in Potton, Blunham and Clophill without sound policy reasons for doing so. So unless any CIL levy set for development in these areas is applied retrospectively these communities have lost out on financial mitigation for the consequences of these inappropriate developments. The potential loss of CIL income for Potton is significant because it has an emerging Neighbourhood Plan and therefore would expect to gain approximately 35% of the funds raised by the levy.

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Budget 2017-2021

Central Bedfordshire Council is consulting on its Revenue and Capital Budgets for 2017-2021. The Capital Budget 2017-2021(a) sets out the capital required to fund the critical infrastructure in the Council’s emerging Local Plan.

‘Critical infrastructure is that which has been identified as infrastructure that must happen to enable physical development. These infrastructure items are often known as ‘blockers’ or ‘showstoppers’, and are most common in relation to transport and utilities infrastructure. Failure to provide these pieces of infrastructure could result in significant delays in the delivery of development.’ (b)

The Council’s Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 was produced to show the costs of infrastructure in its withdrawn Development Strategy. One critical infrastructure contained in the strategy was a link road between M1 (J11a) and the A6. The delivery of this infrastructure was planned to start during 2017 and consists of Phase 1: M1 (J11a) over the East Midlands Mainline railway to Sundon Park Road, an estimated cost of £48 000 000 (c) and Phase 2: Sundon Park Road to the A6, an estimated cost of £52 000 000 (d). Another critical infrastructure planned to start in 2021 is the Capacity Improvement of M1 (J11a) the estimated cost of this work was under consideration at the time the delivery plan was being produced (e).

On examining the Council’s Capital Budget a large discrepancy in the cost of the M1-A6 Link Road has been identified. The total costs of this critical infrastructure in the Council’s infrastructure delivery plan was £100 000 000 plus the unspecified costs of M1 (J11a) capacity improvement. However the capital programme says the total cost of the link road is £55 855 000 (f). The discrepancy in the cost of the link road is £44 145 000 plus the cost of M1 (J11a) capacity improvement. According to the capital budget there is exceptional uncertainty associated with the capital and revenue costs of this most expensive ‘show stopping’ infrastructure in the Council’s emerging Local Plan (g).

A consequence of Brexit means the Council cannot expect any EU funding from South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) to support the link road’s cost. Therefore the Council will have to fund the total cost of the M1-A6 link road through its Capital Budget and hope it will get equivalent funding from s106, s278, the Community Infrastructure Levey (CIL), the retention of business rates and the Government. As the Council failed to get its Development Strategy approved in February 2015 the Council has not been able to raise funds from CIL and therefore is losing £7 700 000 of income a year (h) until its CIL scheme, if approved, comes into effect during February 2019. The retention of business rates could be used to contribute towards the Council’s capital requirements. However this source of income will not be available until 2022 and is likely to be ‘swallowed up’ by the increasing cost of adult social care and the implications of continuing austerity. Another consequence of Brexit is slow economic growth, higher inflation and higher interest rates. These factors will impact Government and private sector capital funding and increase the cost of Council borrowing.

The M1-A6 Link Road cost discrepancy is perplexing and is likely to be greater than £44 000 000. According to the infrastructure delivery plan the cost of M1-A5 link road is £162 100 000 (i). The length of the M1-A6 link road is greater than the length of M1-A5 link road because of the need to accommodate the excessively large housing development proposed North of Luton. On the basis of a cost per Kilometre comparison between the cost of the M1-A5 and the M1-A6 Link Roads plus the cost of bridging the East Midland mainline railway at Chalton the final cost of the M1-A6 link road could be at least £200 000 000.

Irrespective of the magnitude of the cost discrepancy why is there a discrepancy? The discrepancy could be due to the Council’s inability to coordinate the delivery of the infrastructure necessary to connect the Sundon Rail Freight Interchange site to the East Midland mainline railway. Thus reducing the potential profitability of the site and therefore the amount of funding the site’s developers can afford to contribute towards the cost of the M1-A6 Link Road. The discrepancy could be an indication of the loss of EU funding due to Brexit. The discrepancy could be due to changing priorities as it appears more infrastructures and housing development is being planned for Rigmont, Salford & Hulcote, Cranfield, Brogborough, Lidlington and Marston Morretaine, than the development proposed in the withdrawn Development Strategy. A proportion of the discrepancy could represent the total CIL income lost from 2015 to 2019.

Whatever the reason for the discrepancy, if external funding is below the Council’s expectations and the cost of borrowing is greater than forecast, the revenue implications of the capital budget will impact the people of Central Bedfordshire through further service reductions and increases in Council Tax at least until 2021.

References:

(a) Capital Programme 2017-2021

(b) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 2

(c) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

(d) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

(e) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

(f) Appendix B Capital Programme 2017-2021: Detail page 3

(g) Budget and Medium Term Financial Plan 2017-2021

(h) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 3

(i) Infrastructure Delivery Plan 2015 page 20

Letter to Councillor James Jamieson

CPRE Bedfordshire is extremely concerned with Central Bedfordshire Council’s failure to deliver a 5 year Housing Land Supply. We first raised this issue and its consequences; a ‘building free for all’, in our campaign magazine Bedfordshire Matters and our online blog Green Belt Parishes. In Bedfordshire Matters the Director of Regeneration & Business Support claimed the Council had a 5 year land supply. Also at the conclusion of a ‘call for sites’ for housing land during May 2016, the Executive Member for Regeneration, claimed plenty of land had come forward to deliver the Council’s emerging Local Plan. However a Planning Appeal decision on Land off Greenfield Road Flitton (Ref: APP/P0240/W/16/3154220 ) taken during November 2016 revealed this claim was false because the Inspector hearing the appeal judged the Council was unable to justify a 5 year land supply.

We are astonished by the reason for the Council failing to deliver a 5 year land supply. The Council had given planning permission to a consortium of 10 land owners who have yet to choose what house builders will develop their land at sites at Houghton Regis North. Therefore the Inspector concluded it was unrealistic to include Houghton Regis North sites in the Council’s 5 year land supply because housing on these sites was unlikely to be delivered until at least 2020.

When granting planning permission to sites at Houghton Regis North the Council accepted the consortium’s following statement of very special circumstances justifying building on the Green Belt;

‘The development proposal has agreed to contribute towards the costs of the necessary transport infrastructure to support additional signalisation of the A5-M1 Link Road and a pro rata contribution toward the remaining funding toward the Woodside Link, which will generate a substantial amount of economic benefit to the wider area.’ Statement of Very Special Circumstances Addendum June 2015; DP Planning Ltd

We believe the Council has been too eager to please the consortium by not incentivising it to quickly select house builders to develop its land, to decide which builders will provide and fund infrastructures set out in the Houghton Regis North Framework Plan, and to decide who will contribute to the Woodside Link Road funding shortfall. As these reserved matters have not been settled the prospects of the timely delivery of high quality affordable housing and supporting infrastructure for the people of Central Bedfordshire is in jeopardy and the justification for building on the Green Belt fatuous. We consider this justification unexceptional and therefore contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) as infrastructures like the Woodside link Road are routinely funded through S106 agreements.

The Council has let down the people of Flitton by failing to prevent unsound development at Greenfield Road. The Council’s defence at the appeal hearing was very weak. The Council claimed a reason for not granting planning permission was the potential impact on new housing of a smokehouse for curing ham. However the Council failed to present the evidence to justify the smokehouse’s impact on the people of Flitton’s quality of life.

The basis of the Inspector’s land supply judgement set out in the Flitton appeal decision was the Council did not present evidence to justify the delivery of planned housing within 5 years. As the Council claims it has plenty of land to deliver its emerging Local Plan we wonder whether the Council withheld land supply delivery evidence because it wanted housing development at Flitton to go ahead but did not want to overtly support it against the wishes of the people of Flitton. The absence of this evidence meant the Inspector had no option but to uphold the appeal, so the Council gets the housing development it wants while appearing to support the people of Flitton and the Council can claim the Inspector’s judgement was unfair. A political win, win, win for the Westoning, Flitton & Greenfield Ward Councillor.

Unless the shortfall in land supply is remedied within the next month and the Council makes a concerted effort to present a strong robust defence of its decisions not to grant planning permission it will lose its appeals to stop unsound development, at Land off Hitchin Lane Clifton (Ref: APP/P0240/W/16/3154829) and Land at the former Readshill Quarry Clophill (Ref: APP/P0240/W/16/3152707), thus causing disappointment to electors in the Wards of Arlesey and Ampthill. There are also planning applications in the pipeline for large scale developments at Potton and Biggleswade. The applicants cite the Council’s shortfall in Housing Land Supply to justify approval of their development proposals. Clearly the Council is losing control of planning in Central Bedfordshire.

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan Consultation

Currently underway in Central Bedfordshire is a consultation called ‘Shaping where you live 2035.’ This consultation sits outside of the statutory consultation defined by Regulation 18 of the Town and Country Planning (Local Planning) (England) Regulations 2012. Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Development Scheme sets out the timetable for the delivery of its Local Plan. According to this timetable Regulation 18 consultation starts in December 2016 and ends in February 2017. There will also be a further opportunity to comment on the plan when Regulation 19 consultation starts in July 2017 and ends in September 2017. The plan will then be submitted to the Secretary of State during December 2017 and its public examination will start in March 2018.

‘Shaping where you live 2035’ has no significance in planning as this consultation’s outcome will not be considered by a Planning Inspector during the Local Plan’s public examination. Nevertheless the Procedural Practice in the Examination of Local Plans 2016, the ‘Gold Book’, directs an Inspector to consider the outcomes of Regulation 18 and 19 consultations when judging whether a Local Plan is sound. Given the significance in planning practice of Regulation 18 and 19 consultations Town & Parish Councils, local groups and the public affected by the Central Bedfordshire Local Plan should prioritise their responses to these consultations over their response to the ‘Shaping where you live 2035’ consultation. Town & Parish Council’s with emerging Neighbourhood Plans should also consider how their residents’ response to the shaping where you live consultation impacts their emerging Neighbourhood Plans.  

The Public Examination of a Local Plan is the means for judging a plan legally compliant and sound. The public can participate in the examination if they are seeking to change the plan and have indicated they wish to attend the examination at the time they respond to statutory consultation. Generally Town & Parish Council’s, local groups and the public do not attend examinations of Local Plans and as a consequence the views of property owners, developers and Local Authorities are the only views heard. This democratic imbalance can be remedied if all those whose interests are affected by a Local Plan and who seek to change it attend the examination to ensure their views are heard.

 

 

On the Examination of the Luton Local Plan

The second stage examination of the Luton Local Plan concluded at the end of September. The examination is a peer review with the purpose of identifying weaknesses in the plan and providing recommendations on how the plan can be modified to remedy any weakness. At the first stage Planning Inspector Mr Jeremy Yule decided Luton Borough Council had fulfilled its statutory obligation to cooperate with Central Bedfordshire Council.  Councillor Paul Castleman of Luton Borough Council and Councillor Sue Clark of Central Bedfordshire Council had signed a Statement of Common Ground (SOCG) in which Central Bedfordshire agreed to work towards meeting Luton’s unmet housing need. During the second stage the Inspector identified deficiencies in parts of the Luton Local Plan and concluded there was a significant amount of work still to be undertaken before he would approve it.

Deficiencies in the Luton Local Plan include at what locations in Central Bedfordshire Luton’s unmet housing need will be met and the impacts of meeting this on the Green Belt, the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), transport infrastructure, schools, heritage assets and the natural environment across Luton and Central Bedfordshire. Luton’s unmet need is 9 300 houses and Central Bedfordshire’s need is13 200 houses.  Over the period covered by both Local Plans 31 000 houses will need to built in Luton and across Central Bedfordshire to meet the housing needs of Luton and Central Bedfordshire, and to encourage people to move to these places from elsewhere but principally from London.

During the second stage Highways England reported on the traffic impacts on the M1 and the roads feeding into it due to new housing and new employment located at Napier and Century Parks, Butterfield Green, Luton Airport and at unidentified locations across Central Bedfordshire. The impacts on the road network are increases in congestion, journey times and roadside pollution. Highways England traffic modelling identified roads including the M1 would be operating at 95% of their capacity at peak journey times. The inspector was concerned planners had not identified what changes to the road network will be necessary to mitigate these impacts and how they would be funded. For those people commuting via the M1 their journey time will lengthen as any mitigation would require Government to fund increases in M1 capacity if this were possible. Motorway capacity through Luton is currently constrained by existing housing and employment areas and will be further constrained by new housing and employment development.

The prospects of Central Bedfordshire and Luton delivering a road linking the M1 to the A6 and the A505 was discussed as this road could relieve some of the impacts of increases in traffic within Luton and Central Bedfordshire. The intention is for land North of Luton to be safeguarded for an A6 A505 link road as currently there are no plans for its delivery. Also funding for the M1 A6 link road is uncertain due to changes in the priorities of the South East England Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) because of the emergence of the National Infrastructure Commission’s (NIC) proposal for an Oxford – Milton Keynes – Cambridge ‘Growth Corridor’. The potential loss of a proportion of the M1 A6 link road funding due to the UK leaving the European Union is another cause of uncertainty. The ‘Growth Corridor’ could result in the expansion of Milton Keynes into the Marston Vale in North Central Bedfordshire, and proposes the widening of the A421 between Milton Keynes and Bedford, and the upgrading of the West-East railway in the Marston Vale and its extension through to Sandy and on to Cambridge.  The Marston Vale includes Councillor Sue Clark’s Ward of Cranfield & Marston Moretaine.

Historic England made it clear the impacts of the M1 A6 link road’s route together with new housing and employment development could not be mitigated as they affect nationally significant heritage assets at Drays Ditches, Stopsley Common and St Mary’s Church Lower Sundon. Natural England expressed its concern about the potential impact of large scale housing development abutting the Sundon Quarry Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI). Although the Chiltern’s Conservation Board did not attend the examination it made a written representation criticising the impact of new housing and the M1 A6 link road on the Chilterns AONB. Questions raised during the examination about projections of Luton’s population growth revealed a shortfall in early years’ school places within the next few years that will worsen over the duration of the Luton Local Plan. Luton planners had failed to identify this potential shortfall and put in place plans to provide enough school places.

The outcome of the second stage is the Inspector’s recommendation that Luton and Central Bedfordshire Councils work together to produce a deliverable Growth Options Study (GOS) to be ready for examination during the first week of December and prior to consultation on Central Bedfordshire’s draft Local Plan at the end of December. Additionally if the Luton Local Plan is approved an early review of the plan, within a few years from its start, should take place to ensure the plan is delivering its objectives. The growth options strategy arising from the GOS will define areas of growth across Central Bedfordshire and set out the scale and nature of new development within these areas. During the examination Luton Borough Council indicated areas in Central Bedfordshire where it would like to see its unmet housing need located. Two of these areas are North Luton encompassing the Green Belt parishes of Chalton, Sundon and Streatley, and West of Luton in the Green Belt parish of Caddington & Slip End. Government Policy provides for a high level of protection to the Green Belt as building on it will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances. The Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) Sajid Javed MP has recently said the Green Belt is ‘sacrosanct’. This policy protection and political support for the Green Belt would have to be blatantly ignored by Central Bedfordshire Council if new development were to go ahead in the Central Bedfordshire Green Belt because meeting unmet sustainable housing need is not an exceptional reason for building on the Green Belt.

Recently Luton Borough Council legally challenged Central Bedfordshire Council on the grounds that it had approved development on its Green Belt North of Houghton Regis. However this legal challenge was probably disingenuous as the quid pro quo for Central Bedfordshire Council’s support for the Luton Local Plan is likely to be no further legal challenges to plans to build on the Green Belt North and West of Luton. Nevertheless the Luton Green Belt remains intact because Luton Borough Council has chosen not to ignore Government Green Belt policy and build on its Green Belt to meet its housing need.

Duty to Cooperate; ‘Behind Closed Doors’

Here are links to documents setting out the details of the extent of cooperation between Luton and Central Bedfordshire Councils, and other Local Authorities. The documents are not normally found in the public domain so it is unlikely the general public and media will have seen them until now. They give an insight into planning decisions  made ‘behind closed doors’. They show how planners set the parameters of ‘independent’ studies used as evidence to support their planning decisions to get the outcomes they want from them. One such study is a review of the Green Belt. Although this study is yet to be concluded its outcome is predetermined; there will be a substantial loss of Green Belt across Central Bedfordshire.

Duty to Cooperate Document Bundle 001b

Duty to Cooperate Document Bundle 001d

 

On Stage 1 of the Examination of the Luton Local Plan

Mr Jeremy Youle

Thank you for your work on conducting the Stage 1 Examination of the Luton Local Plan. Irrespective of the outcome Sundon Parish Council was disappointed with the examination process. The separate issues of Duty to Cooperate and soundness were conflated to such an extent during the examination it appeared you were conducting an examination of Stage 2 matters during the examination of the Council’s Duty to Cooperate obligation.

The conflation of these issues led to hypothetical discussion and tacit agreement between the Council and Central Bedfordshire Council about a quantum of the Council’s unmet housing need and its location at Houghton Regis North and the Green Belt north of Luton part of which is in the Chilterns AONB.

Sundon Parish Council appreciates the potential benefits of an agreement between the Council and its neighbours. However, this should not override sound evidence for a particular quantum of housing and its location.

During the examination the Council stated the studies that will provide evidence for or against an overall quantum of unmet housing need and its location had not been completed. One example of these studies is a Green Belt Review. Sundon Parish Council does not want to believe evidence from this review and other pertinent studies will support a predetermined negotiated outcome. But it is becoming increasingly obvious this will be the case.

Michael Stonnell

 

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Town and Parish Council Conference

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Town and Parish Council Conference held on Wednesday 13th July 2016

There is a contradiction between the views of Henry Cleary and Councillors about the effects on Parishes of the Council’s Local Plan. Henry is the Chair of the Council’s Development and Infrastructure Board. Henry a retired Government functionary whose credentials can be found here at National Historic Ships; says the outcome of the independent Green Belt review and site selection process will provide evidence either for or against building warehousing around Sundon Parish’s cherished historic English Heritage asset, St Mary’s Church in Lower Sundon, housing in distinctive Landscape Character Areas (LCA’s), the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and in the Green Belt.

Councillors Sue Clark, Tom Nicols and Nigel Young support the Green Belt review and the site selection process. Tom Nicols has threatened Green Belt parishes; accept several thousand houses and many warehouses or accept half as many being built! It appears the outcome of the ‘independent’ Green Belt review and site selection process is pre-determined.

The consensus amongst many of Central Bedfordshire’s Parish Councils is the Council’s consultation process is a sham. The law on public consultation found here at Government Legislation implies poor quality public consultation is not unlawful. Is Central Bedfordshire’s costly public consultation meaningful or is it merely a ‘tick box’ exercise?

The Council’s Community Planning consultation adjunct is divisive. It encourages Parish Councils to accept unsustainable development or direct this development onto other parishes. Parishes are not planning authorities. The Council is a planning authority; it is its responsibility to decide on the locations of new development not parishes! If parishes don’t want unsustainable development then it is up to the Council to justify the need for it.

On Stage 1 of the Examination of Luton’s Local Plan

Stage 1 of the Examination of Luton’s Local Plan starts a 10am on Tuesday the 19th July at the UK Carnival Centre in St Mary’s Road LU1 3JA

Here is a letter to the Planning Inspector who is conducting the Examination. It contains comments on Luton’s Local Plan.

Dear Mr Jeremy Youle

Stage 1 Examination Duty to Cooperate Sundon Parish Council Representation

The stated object of Stage 1 examination is Duty to Cooperate, in particular cooperation on housing, economy, transport, green belt and infrastructure. Sundon Parish Council is disappointed it has been unable to properly consider Duty to Cooperate as documents DTC 001b and DTC 001d cited in the Council’s answers to questions set out in their document ED003 are currently unavailable to the public on the Council’s website.

On cooperation on housing; clearly some discussions have taken place between the Council and Central Bedfordshire Council. However the outcomes of these discussions, if there are any, do not appear to have influenced the content of the Council’s Local Plan or Central Bedfordshire Council’s emerging Local Plan. Also within the Council’s Local Plan there is no obvious consideration of options that could increase Luton’s capacity for housing, such as regenerating its existing poor quality and overcrowded housing, using more ‘brownfield’ for housing rather than employment,or building upwards instead of outwards.

On cooperation on the economy; the Council’s Local Plan refers to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Sundon Rail Freight Interchange (RFI) as potential means of assisting the Council achieving its employment needs. However the map in Appendix 1 calls into question whether there will ever be a Sundon RFI as the map shows the RFI site ALP142 as Residential or Mixed Residential use.

On cooperation on the Green Belt; in ED003 the Council states the joint Green Belt study commissioned by it and Central Bedfordshire Council ‘in so far as it affects Luton is due for completion in the week beginning 1st August 2016’. Clearly Luton’s capacity to meet all of its housing need with the cooperation of Central Bedfordshire is still under consideration. Without knowing the outcome of this study an objective judgement cannot be made about whether the Council has effectively cooperated with Central Bedfordshire Council.

The impact of meeting any of Luton’s unmet housing need in Sundon Parish, if this were necessary, is profound as the Parish is within the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Parish Council is heartened by the statements of politicians regarding Green Belts, the protection given to Green Belts and AONB’s in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and Green Belt planning case law. The Parish Council appreciates the purposes of the Green Belt are to check the unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas, to assist in safeguarding the countryside from encroachment and to assist urban regeneration.

The Parish Council cites three letters from Brandon Lewis MP; Appendix 2 Appendix 3 Appendix 4 that support these protections.  According to these letters housing need alone is not a reason for building on Green Belt. In particular the letter in Appendix 2 supports the choice of a Council not to meet all of the housing need identified in a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) due to Green Belt policy constraints. Also there is no apparent exceptional circumstance, i.e. no cooperation on infrastructure, for changing Green Belt boundaries, in either the Council’s Local Plan or Central Bedfordshire Council’s emerging Local Plan or in answers to questions you have put to the Council.

As it currently stands the Council’s Local Plan is incomplete because the Council does not have a 5 year land supply to underpin the delivery of its housing need.  Currently Central Bedfordshire Council does not have a 5 year land supply either; see the planning inspector’s judgement in Appendix 5. Also in this judgement comment is made on the deliverability of Local Plans containing Green Belt in its land supply.

As land around Luton is Green Belt it is very unlikely Central Bedfordshire Council will be able to deliver Luton’s unmet housing need, if it chooses to do so, without facing significant challenges. As any Local Plan involving building on Green Belt against Government policy intent increases the likelihood of legal challenges against it, increases the time it takes to deliver the plan, and therefore significantly impedes progress towards achieving the Government’s target of building 250 000 houses a year.

Finally it is obvious to Sundon Parish Council that Councils’ Duty to Cooperate has not yet concluded as Councils’ Local Plans are devoid of the outcomes of their cooperation. The Parish Council therefore concludes the examination of the Local Plan at this time is premature.

Yours sincerely

Michael Stonnell

Chair of Sundon Parish Council

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On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Housing Strategy

Government Help to Buy and Right to Buy policy interventions into the housing market have had little impact on delivering its target of 250 000 homes a year by 2020 for people who need a place to live. Help to Buy has made home ownership for some people affordable but the policy has prevented house prices stabilising at a level people can afford without the support of Help to Buy. Consequently those people who do not qualify for Help to Buy support are finding it increasingly difficult to buy their own home. The Council’s analysis of housing affordability for people living and working in Central Bedfordshire shows that it is impossible for people on the national average wage to buy their own home.

Right to Buy has reduced the amount of rented social housing available. This housing to a limited extent has been or is intended to be replaced with affordable housing. With a few exceptions this affordable housing has been market housing and not rented social housing. As market housing is becoming increasingly unaffordable for Central Bedfordshire residents rented social housing built and controlled by the Council is one means of providing residents with the houses they need. The Council appears to be ideologically opposed to providing rented social housing. Clearly this ideology has an adverse impact on hard working Central Bedfordshire families who earn less than the national average wage.

Starter Homes are another Government policy intervention. Stater Homes are for people below the age of 40. They are being promoted as solution to the problem of unaffordable housing. Outside of London the maximum price of a starter home should not exceed £250 000 but they can be priced at up to 80% of the value of the market equivalent. After a period of time these houses revert to market housing. As Central Bedfordshire residents on the average wage cannot afford houses priced above £250 000. Rented social housing that is affordable in perpetuity appears to meet these residents housing need better than the alternatives.

Analysis of the Council’s recent Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) shows the magnitude of housing need for Central Bedfordshire has been inflated. As approximately 50% of the housing it plans to build is for people who live outside Central Bedfordshire. Most of these people live to the south of Central Bedfordshire and in London where house prices and wages are far higher than in Central Bedfordshire. If these people choose to move into Central Bedfordshire it is probable the affordability of housing for Central Bedfordshire residents will be adversely affected.

The Council has identified affordability as a key issue to address with its Housing Strategy. However it has no policy of its own for dealing with this issue. The Council’s only response is to require developers to provide 30% affordable housing. This is not a credible response as the affordability of housing is dependent on the cost of borrowing or renting, both of which are affected by wages, and house prices. The Council has no control over any of these factors.

The Council’s Housing Strategy also considers the impact of the economic viability of a development on achieving its 30% affordable housing requirement. The viability of a development depends on its associated infrastructure costs and anticipated income from the sale of houses. The Council say the factors influencing viability are placing downward pressure on affordability. For example the costs of the Council’s A5 M1 and Woodside Link roads at Houghton Regis North has placed significant downward pressure on affordable housing and infrastructure delivery despite the Council choosing to increase developers housing income by approving plans to build more houses than is required to meet the needs of people living in this area. Any proposals for new roads, for example, an M1 A6 road will jeopardise the amount of affordable housing developers consider to be viable.

The Council is concerned about developers not ‘building out’ their sites. It is not in the interests of developers if housing supply approaches or exceeds housing demand. As this circumstance will adversely affect the profitability of their development sites and dividends they pay their shareholders. The amount of profit developers expect is also affected by the amount of affordable housing and infrastructure they are obliged to provide under Section 106 agreements or the Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy scheme. The Council’s Housing Strategy does not set out its policy for dealing with developers poor ‘build out rate’ performance. Without a policy incentive to increase ‘build out’ rates the Council is vulnerable to challenges to the credibility of its claim that it has a 5 year land supply.

The Housing Strategy covers the location of new housing in Central Bedfordshire. A large proportion of this new housing is proposed to be built on Green Belt. Building on the Green Belt is against Government policy. The Council has not yet conducted a review of the Green Belt however its Housing Strategy indicates it intends to propose a change to the Green Belt boundary to accommodate new housing North of Luton without having a reasonable basis for doing so. The withdrawal of the Council’s Development Strategy means the Council’s unlawful and unapproved North of Luton Framework Plan has been withdrawn as well.  The Framework Plan is a Supplementary Planning Document and therefore cannot be used as the reasonable basis for changing a Green Belt boundary as this is a matter for an independent Planning Inspector’s judgement and not the Council’s judgement. Any housing North of Luton resulting from a change to the Green Belt boundary will also adversely affect the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the Best and Most Versatile (BMVL) agricultural land.

National infrastructure developments have clearly not influenced the Housing Strategy. The new East West Rail Link connecting Cambridge to Oxford will pass through Central Bedfordshire. Funding this infrastructure, including railway station upgrades, will probably require the support of developers through s106 agreements. The relocation of housing from the Green Belt, the Chilterns AONB and areas of distinctive Landscape Character to transport hubs along this rail link’s route would contribute to the East West Rail Link’s costs and preserve Central Bedfordshire’s most valued countryside. Relocation of housing would also improve its sustainability by attracting businesses to set up at these hubs and relieve congestion on Central Bedfordshire’s highways infrastructure.

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Environmental Framework Counsultation

I notice this consultation on the Environmental Framework was not included in the Council’s recently published Local Development Scheme (LDS). The LDS also lacks detail concerning its content, timing and who will be consulted at each stage of plan making. The Inspector involved with examining the Council’s withdrawn Development Strategy criticized the Council’s consultation process. A detailed LDS would help counter this criticism and contribute to improving the quality of comment from public and statutory consultees.

The Green Belt is a major contributor to maintaining Central Bedfordshire’s rural environment by preventing urban sprawl. We are disappointed the Green Belt does not feature in the Environmental Framework and Green Belt expansion is not being considered as a means of protecting Central Bedfordshire’s existing rural environment.

The Environmental Framework does not cover the design of new urban environments or the regeneration of existing urban environments.  There has been no assessment of the effects on people living, working and traveling in Central Bedfordshire due to their interactions with the natural, social, rural and urban environments.

The credibility and usefulness of residents and business surveys about the importance of the environment is dubious. The methodological basis of the survey is not included or cited.

None of the document’s hyperlinks accurately reference the evidence that underpins the environment framework.

Question 1 – How to evaluate environmental value

The NPPF says the allocation of land for development should prefer land of lesser environmental value.

– How should the environmental value of land across Central Bedfordshire be assessed?

The environmental value of areas of land has already been assessed and designated as Green Belt, AONB, SSSI, CWS etc. The environmental value of non-designated land should be assessed by communities.

– Are there some elements of environmental value more important than others?

No. They should all carry equal weight when deciding what land to allocate for development.

– Are there elements of environmental value that we have not assessed in this Environmental Framework?

Yes. Clean air, agricultural land, Green Belt, the built environment, the layout of new urban environments and the regeneration of existing urban environments. An assessment of the effects on people living, working and traveling around Central Bedfordshire due to their interactions with the natural, social and built environments.

Question 2 – Improving environmental standards and green features in development

As a council, we are keen to embrace innovation and ensure that development delivers the best outcomes for Central Bedfordshire. A key challenge is working with developers to deliver projects that go beyond the minimum statutory environmental standards. We would therefore like to get your views on:

– How do we encourage development to deliver to a higher environmental standard and what information, policy and guidance would support this?

Delivery of higher environmental standards should be delivered through policy, not guidance, and underpinned by incentives.

What “green” features would you most like to see in new developments? (Pick up to three)

– Solar panels on roofs

 – Green/brown roofs (roofs with plants / habitats on top)

 – Rainwater collection and reuse

Question 3 – Reflecting the importance of the environment in planning policy

How should the importance of the environment to Central Bedfordshire’s businesses and residents be reflected in the future Central Bedfordshire Plan

– Integrating environmental considerations across all relevant policies (e.g. locations for growth, site allocations)?

 – Having specific environmental policies?

 – A combination of the above approaches?

Specific environmental policies should be used to reflect the importance of the environment in Central Bedfordshire’s future Local Plan.

Question 4 – Landscape designations

National policy says that the planning system should protect and enhance valued landscapes. Central Bedfordshire has part of a nationally designated landscape (the Chilterns), but we do not have local landscape designations.

– Should we define what a valued landscape is?

Yes.

– Should we designate locally valued landscapes?

Yes.

– Should designations include different standards for development to areas not designated for landscape value?

Yes.

– Should designations have an emphasis on limiting development or be orientated more towards requiring additional landscape enhancement?

The emphasis should be on limiting development.

– Or should we rely on the Landscape Character Assessment to inform landscape enhancement and development decision making? 

The Landscape Character Assessment should inform choice of Designations.

Question 9 – Managing the Chilterns and their setting

What issue regarding the landscape of the Chilterns is of most concern to you?

Housing and infrastructure development are of concern.

How can the impact of recreational activities in the Chilterns be managed whilst urban growth and populations increase?

 The impact of recreational activities in the Chilterns should be managed by the Chilterns Conservation Board.

The AONB Board has produced guidelines to safeguard the “setting” (i.e. the area immediately around, but not within) of the AONB. Should we try to define and map this zone, bearing in mind the impact will vary depending on the type and scale of development proposed?

 The area around the Chilterns AONB should be mapped and accord with the Board’s guidelines on safeguarding its setting.

Question 15 – Use of sustainable drainage systems

National Policy requires Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) as standard in major developments (for example, 10 homes or more).

– Should CBC require SuDS as standard in all developments (i.e. minor and major, residential and commercial)?

 Yes.

– Should SuDS be used to provide more than just flood risk management? For example, to clean runoff water from developments, and provide amenity and biodiversity benefits.

Yes.

 Question 17 – Energy efficiency in new developments

Should new development be energy efficient and deliver carbon emissions reductions?

Yes.

National policy allows councils to set targets for renewable energy generation from new developments; should the Council be flexible and allow carbon emission reduction through both energy efficiency measures and renewable energy technologies?

 Yes.

 Question 18 – Generating renewable energy in Central Bedfordshire

Which renewable technology do you think is best for Central Bedfordshire?

Solar PV farms

Solar PV on commercial roofs

Solar PV on domestic roofs

Wind turbines on domestic properties

Solar powered Stirling engine energy systems

 

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Call for Sites Selection Criteria Consultation

We notice this consultation on site selection criteria was not included in the Council’s recently published Local Development Scheme (LDS). The LDS also lacks detail concerning its content, timing and who will be consulted at each stage of plan making. The Inspector involved with examining the Council’s withdrawn Development Strategy criticized the Council’s consultation process. A detailed LDS would help counter this criticism and contribute to improving the quality of comment from public and statutory consultees. We have alerted statutory consultees to this consultation of which they were unaware.

The Council’s approach to this consultation is dubious as a ‘call for sites’ is running in parallel with this consultation. Clearly this approach allows the Council to change its site selection criteria to favor sites emerging form its ‘call for sites’. We also note sites identified during the making of the Council’s Development Strategy will be subject to these selection criteria. It is unlikely many of these sites will be deselected as the Council’s ability to deliver a 5 year land supply will be adversely affected. So this consultation is a sham.

Selection Criteria

Size of Site; this criterion will mean a site of less than 10 dwellings will be excluded from selection. This criterion does not define a maximum amount of land required to accomodate 10 dwellings. We are concerned this will lead to the profligate use of land in high quality landscape areas, the Green Belt and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). This will occur because developers will not want their sites excluded because they are too small to accommodate the size of dwellings they want to build. The larger the dwelling the more land is required to build 10 of them. We recommend sites of 10 dwellings or less are not excluded from selection and a maximum area of a 10 dwelling site is set so ‘land hungry’ sites at inappropriate locations are excluded from selection.

 Flood Risk; we are concerned this criterion will mean 50% of an unspecified size of development site cannot be excluded from selection. The Council has not specified the method it will use to assess flood risk. We recommend the Council uses the method found here  at http://planningguidance.communities.gov.uk/blog/guidance/flood-risk-and-coastal-change/the-aim-of-the-sequential-test/ and here at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/flood-risk-assessment-the-sequential-test-for-applicants

Nationally Significant Designations; the nationally significant Green Belt designation is not included in this criterion. This will mean a proposal for an inappropriate development site within the Green Belt cannot be excluded from selection. We recommend Green Belt is recognized for what it is a nationally significant designation and therefore an exclusionary criterion.

We are concerned this criterion will mean 50% of an unspecified size of development site within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty cannot be excluded from selection. As well this criterion would allow development to abut this AONB adversely affecting the character of its setting.

This criterion will exclude from selection development sites within a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI). We recommend the criterion should also exclude a development site from selection if it is adjacent to a SSSI and adversely affects the environment that sustains the sites special characteristics.

Brownfield Land; unlike the Green Belt – the Chilterns AONB, SSSI’s, County Wildlife Sites and heritage assets – brownfield is not a designation. Previously developed land in the Green Belt is Green Belt. We are therefore concerned this criterion will mean a new site on previously developed land within the Green Belt cannot be excluded from selection.

Community; the Council has not specified a criterion for assessing community support for a site in a designated Neighborhood Plan area. We recommend such sites are excluded from assessment until a Neighborhood Plan is supported by a referendum.

Agricultural Land; we are concerned this criterion will mean 50% of an unspecified size of development site on agricultural land grades 1, 2 and 3a cannot be excluded from selection.

We are disappointed there is no exclusionary selection criterion to protect nationally designated heritage assets, ancient woodland and footpaths.

Feeding into the ‘call for sites’ selection process is a Strategic Green Belt Review. We strongly object to need for a review. The Green Belt is immutable and is fulfilling its purpose. It is a justifiable constraint on urban sprawl. Urban sprawl is manifest in Central Bedfordshire on the Green Belt North of Houghton Regis. The Council has chosen to needlessly undermine the Green Belt and its prestigious Chilterns AONB contrary to the will of people who live in Central Bedfordshire.

 

Letter to Milton Keynes Council

Plan: MK Strategic Development Directions Options Consultation

I favour Strategic Development Direction 4 as historically the use of land within the Milton Keynes urban area has been profligate and wasteful. Milton Keynes does not have a ‘right to grow’ at the countryside and other peoples’ expense. Intensification and redevelopment of the urban area and maintaining existing Green Belt is the only way to stop Milton Keynes’s urban sprawl and encourage more effective use of its urban space.

I object to Strategic Development Directions 1, 2 and 3. Development within the North of the Milton Keynes area and into the West and South West, and East and South East is constrained by Green Belt, open countryside, woodland, agricultural land, Ouse Valley flooding, rural communities and the development plans of other local authorities.

Expansion outside Milton Keynes would be into the administrative areas of Aylesbury Vale District Council and Central Bedfordshire Council. These authorities both have an emerging development plan. Locations in the South East of Milton Keynes area also have their own development plans. Woburn Sands has an adopted Neighbourhood Plan and Wavendon has an emerging Neighbourhood Plan.

Development Directions 1, 2, and 3 will have negative impacts on rural life for people living in the small communities affected; traffic congestion, increases in commuting time, air pollution, increases in demand for under resourced healthcare provision, and loss of rural amenities. All these adverse effects of expansion outside the Milton Keynes urban area is unnecessary when compared to the obvious benefits of Strategic Development Direction 4.

Direction 4 is not constrained by the probable conflicting development objectives of other Local Authorities and Neighbourhoods, or by environmental constraints, or the physical constraints of the M1 motorway and the East West railway. Clearly the minimal constraints on Direction 4 mean this option can be delivered quicker than either of the other development directions. Also the existing infrastructure within the Milton Keynes urban area will cost less to adapt or augment than the costs of the new infrastructure necessary to deliver growth in the other development directions.

Whichever development direction Milton Keynes Council chooses I intend to comment further on Plan: MK as details of this plan emerge.

Central Bedfordshire Council Fails Again

Central Bedfordshire Council has failed to convince a planning inspector it has a 5 year land supply. In the latest edition of CPRE Bedfordshire’s magazine Bedfordshire Matters (page 4) Jason Longhurst Director of Regeneration at the Council said the Council had a 5 year land supply. However a planning inspector in this report; Henlow Appeal [2045073] (paragraph 37) says the Council has not got a 5 year land supply. This means Central Bedfordshire is at the mercy of speculative developers. My recent blog post ‘Building Free for all as Central Bedfordshire Council abandons its Development Strategy’ explains the implications for Towns and Villages across Central Bedfordshire who were told by the Council that its development plans would protect them from speculative development.

Department of Communities and Local Government National Planning Policy Consultation Response from Sundon Parish Council

Currently the Department of Communities and Local Government are Consulting on proposals for changes to National Planning Policy. These changes can be found here National Planning Policy Consultation

Answers to Consultation Questions

Question 1. Do you have any comments or suggestions about the proposal to amend the definition of affordable housing in national planning policy to include a wider range of low cost home ownership options?

The definition of affordable housing should not be extended to include starter homes.  The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines affordable housing as affordable in perpetuity. This is not the case for starter homes which will enter the normal housing market after 5 years. Starter homes are therefore low cost market housing which is explicitly excluded from the NPPF definition of affordable housing.

The price of new housing in Central Bedfordshire is already unaffordable for most of its residents. New starter homes will mean Central Bedfordshire housing will remain unaffordable.  Starter homes will also result in fewer affordable houses being available for rent.  This will give to one section of the community that can afford starter homes and take from another less affluent section that cannot afford them.

Question 2. Do you have any views on the implications of the proposed change to the definition of affordable housing on people with protected characteristics as defined in the Equalities Act 2010? What evidence do you have on this matter?

No comment.

Question 3. Do you agree with the Government’s definition of a commuter hub? If not, what changes do you consider are required?

The two proposed qualities of a commuter hub are alternatives. Therefore policy will apply to a large number and mainline commuter routes into London for example Harpenden in North Hertfordshire and Harlington and Flitwick in Central Bedfordshire. The distance between railway stations in Harpenden and Luton is less than 4 miles, Leagrave and Harlington less than 3 miles, and Harlington and Flitwick less than 3 miles. Therefore large swathes of Green Belt in North Hertfordshire and Central Bedfordshire, and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Central Bedfordshire will be affected.

The definition does not indicate the types of land around commuter hubs affected by this policy.  The policy should apply only to land already developed, designated for development or, at least, within the development boundaries of an existing settlement.  It should not include Green Belt or AONB’s near to the relevant railway station, for example, Harlington in Central Bedfordshire. There should be a clear Government policy to this effect.

The use of non-operational railway land should be approached with caution so as not to develop land needed for future enhancements to transport infrastructure.

Question 4. Do you have any further suggestions for proposals to support higher density development around commuter hubs through the planning system?

No comment.

Question 5. Do you agree that the Government should not introduce a minimum level of residential densities in national policy for areas around commuter hubs? If not, why not?

The Council does not agree. A minimum density level will not encourage a better use of land at a sustainable location.

Question 6. Do you consider that national planning policy should provide greater policy support for new settlements in meeting development needs? If not, why not?

The Council does not oppose new settlements separate from existing developments, provided they are big enough to function as self-contained towns, not just dormitories.  However, there should not be a supportive approach to urban extensions which involve rolling back the Green Belt.  This is just the sort of development that the Green Belt was established to prevent.

Question 7. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of brownfield land for housing? If not, why not and are there any unintended impacts that we should take into account? 

The Council supports measures to encourage the reuse of brownfield sites and the development of small windfall sites within existing settlement boundaries.  In particular, we support effectively creating a presumption in favour of brownfield sites.  We consider that a register of brownfield sites, in accordance with the Housing and Planning Bill 2015, will assist in bringing forward brownfield development.  We also believe that in order to lessen the pressure on greenfield sites developers be encouraged to build on brownfield first.

Question 8. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of small sites for housing? If not, why not? How could the change impact on the calculation of the local planning authorities’ five-year land supply?

The Council supports the development of small sustainable sites immediately adjacent to settlement boundaries so long as it is clearly understood that development on the Green Belt is not considered sustainable development (NPPF para 14 and footnote 9.) Small sites have the merit that they are likely to be developed by small builders or as self-build, thus boosting the local economy.  They are also likely to be built more quickly unlike large scale developments in Central Bedfordshire that proceed at a glacial pace.

Question 9. Do you agree with the Government proposal to define a small site as a site of less than 10 units? If not, what other definition do you consider is appropriate, and why?

The Council does agree.

Question 10. Do you consider that national planning policy should set out that local planning authorities should put in place a specific positive local policy for assessing applications for development on small sites not allocated in the Local Plan?

The vast majority of Local Plans already include a criteria based policy on small sites; we do not see that it is necessary to put a requirement to do so in National Planning Policy.  The motivation of the National Planning Policy Framework was to make planning policy more concise.  It is important that the criteria applied respect other policies in the Local Plan, such as Green Belt policy. Just because a site is small, it is no reason to allow development in the absence of very special circumstances.

Question 11. We would welcome your views on how best to implement the housing delivery test, and in particular:

  • What do you consider should be the baseline against which to monitor delivery of new housing?

The Council considers the concept of the housing delivery test is misconceived and would create a lot of ‘red tape’.

It is wrong to see the failure to deliver development on land for which planning permission has been granted as the fault of the Local Planning Authority.  It is the responsibility of developers promptly to implement the developments for which they have permission.  The problem is financial.  It is not in the developers’ interest to develop quickly if that would reduce the profit they can make and the undeveloped land is appreciating and increasing the assets on their balance sheet.  Granting more planning permissions will not solve the problem. Nor will reducing the time within which a start must be made; as currently a token amount of ground work is sufficient to meet these conditions.  The developers need to be motivated to deliver their developments quickly.

The Council would like council tax to be payable from three years after the grant of planning permission, whether the development has been completed or not. There is also the problem of land-banking by companies who are not developers and yet own considerable areas of land to sell on to developers in due course. This is causing development to stagnate as the asset is more valuable in their balance sheet.

  • What should constitute significant under delivery and over what time period?

No further comment.

  • What steps do you think should be taken in response to significant under delivery?

No further comment.

  • How do you see this approach working when the housing policies in the Local Plan are out of date?

No further comment.

Question 12. What would be the impact of a housing delivery test on development activity?

 No comment.

Question 13. What evidence would you suggest could be used to justify retention of land for commercial or similar use? Should there be a fixed time limit on land retention for commercial use?

Any evidence needs to address the likelihood of the land being used commercially.  The Council considers there should be a time limit on the retention of commercially designated land, but with some potential flexibility. It would not be sensible to remove the commercial designation at the time limit if serious negotiations for its commercial use were under way.

Question 14. Do you consider that the starter homes exception site policy should be extended to unviable or underused retail, leisure and non-residential institutional brownfield land?

The Council does agree.

Question 15. Do you support the proposal to strengthen the starter homes exception site policy?

No comment.

Question 16. Should starter homes form a significant element of any housing component within mixed use developments and converted unlet commercial units?

The Council does agree.

Question 17. Should rural exception sites be used to deliver starter homes in rural areas? If so, should local planning authorities have the flexibility to require local connection test?

The Council does not agree with the idea of starter homes on exception sites in the Green Belt for the reasons set out in its answer to Question 1.  An essential feature of rural exception sites, as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework, is that affordable housing provided on these sites is affordable in perpetuity.  If the present proposal were to be adopted, after five years the rural settlement with an exception site would be back to square one.  There would be pressure for another generation of starter homes and Green Belt boundaries will be steadily eroded, contrary to the main purpose of Green Belt policy.

Question 18. Are there any other policy approaches to delivering starter homes in rural areas that you would support?

No comment.

Question 19. Should local communities have the opportunity to allocate sites for small scale starter home developments in their Green Belt through neighbourhood plans?

The Council does not agree with the idea of starter homes in the Green Belt being provided for in neighbourhood plans for the reasons set out in its answer to Questions 1 and 17. Starter homes are not the same as affordable housing.

If starter homes, which after all are market housing, are allowed in the Green Belt, without some other very special circumstances, developers will see this as the thin edge of the wedge. They will bring forward more market housing in the Green Belt which will be more difficult to refuse. Building a starter home in the green belt, because of the price of the land, will not be affordable to first time buyers within the criteria set out by the government. Starter homes would be an excuse for developers to insist on a quid pro quo of several 6 bed mansions in order to compensate for the starter home.

Question 20. Should planning policy be amended to allow redevelopment of brownfield sites for starter homes through a more flexible approach to assessing the impact on openness?

The Council opposes this proposal. It is essentially to insert ‘substantially’ before ‘greater impact’ in the last bullet point in para 89 of the NPPF for starter homes developments.  It is difficult to judge what effect this would have; what is ‘substantial’? However, it seems that it must either involve a serious loss of Green Belt openness or else have little effect on the delivery of starter homes.

Critical Comment on Central Bedfordshire Council’s Budget 2016

Council budgets over the last 5 years have been ‘pay less get more’ budgets. The Council decided not to increase Council Tax and benefit from £75 million in efficiency savings across is operations. But was this a sustainable strategy? Clearly the strategy was unsustainable as the Council’s new Budget will raise Council Tax over the next 5 years. The Council blames Government spending cuts but it has known these cuts were on the way since the start of Government’s austerity programme in 2010. So why did the Council decide to pursue a strategy that drastically reduced its income, harmed its operations and contributed to the deterioration of its services provision?

The Council’s Budget 2016 is a ‘pay more get less’ budget. The proposed 4% rise in Council Tax by itself will contribute little to improving the Council’s substandard adult social care provision or prevent it from discontinuing its support for its non-statutory services. In May 2015 the Council stated in its Caddington Hall Care Home consultation documents;

‘The Council owns and operates seven care homes which we built several decades ago and which currently no longer meet the expectations of customers and regulators in terms of facilities and accommodation’.

The Council’s Executive decided to close Caddington Hall in July 2015. Without capital funding in addition to the proposed Council Tax rises the rest of the Council’s Care Homes remain under threat of closure despite increasing demand due to our ageing population. The implications of an ageing population for healthcare provision have been common knowledge since at least the turn of this century. Yet the deterioration of the Council’s Care Homes has been continuous since then. Clearly this service’s deterioration is an outcome of the Council’s unsustainable ‘pay less get more’ strategy.

The Council’s flagship Development Strategy launched 3 years ago by Cllr Jamieson with a flurry of ideological rhetoric has stalled because its ‘pay less get more’ strategy has harmed its capacity to produce an approved effective plan for creating jobs, and building affordable, and social housing. An outcome of this stalled strategy is the revenue income from planned housing and employment development is not being realised. The Council’s failure to get developers to ‘build out’ their sites quickly means the planned expansion of its revenue raising Council Tax base lags behind increasing demand for Council services and, affordable and social housing.

The Council’s other means of revenue income, the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), remains unapproved.  However if it were approved, one of the largest sources of income from the levy will be lost as the Council intends to set a zero levy on its Houghton Regis North development to improve the viability of building at this location. Considering Government cuts, and increasing demand for services, and Council Tax increases, is a zero levy for large housing developments an appropriate or sustainable strategy?

Council Tax will be a significant portion of the Council’s income over the next 5 years as planned cuts in Government funding begin to bite and funding from other sources such as the new homes bonus decline. The amount of new homes bonus payments depends on the number of houses built and is therefore affected by developer ‘build out’ rates. In future payments may depend on the Council having an approved Development Strategy. Currently build out rates are slow and the Council does not have a Development Strategy. The phasing of a new source of Council income from the retention of business rates means it will not be available to spend until towards end of the Council’s financial plan. Another potential source of income may come from the Council delivering services and infrastructure that are currently provided by the Government. However income will only arise if the Council can deliver these services and infrastructure for less cost than the Government can.

If the Council were to provide new infrastructure and services without a robust and sustainable financial plan there is a high risk of a shortfall between the costs of their provision and income they generate.  Any shortfall will have to be funded by the Council and paid for in part by further increases in Council Tax.  In the light of strategic errors the Council has made is the Council capable of producing a robust and sustainable financial plan?

The Council is considering spending £278 million on Capital Projects over the duration of its financial plan. The revenue implications of these projects have been accounted for in the plan. This means a portion of the proposed 4% rise in Council Tax is being used to fund them. The corollary is if our local representatives were to choose not to go ahead with some of these projects then large rises in Council Tax can be avoided.

The Council will soon be deciding whether to spend £42 million on highway schemes but what benefits will these schemes provide the people of Central Bedfordshire? Would electors prefer some of this money to be spent on adult healthcare and affordable and social housing instead of building roads to encourage migration from London into an increasingly overpopulated Central Bedfordshire?

Funding for capital projects comes from South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP) and other similar agencies, bank loans, Government loans and loans from other Council’s. A recent Council Treasury Management Report shows the Council has taken on high risk Lender Option Buyer Option (LOBO) bank loans. The Budget 2016 report also shows the revenue implications of small rises in the Bank of England base rate. However, the report fails to highlight the risk of SEMLEP’s funding drying up if the UK decides to leave the European Union as most of its funding comes from the European Central Bank via Government.

Loans from other Councils may have an adverse impact on Central Bedfordshire countryside as the quid pro quo could mean our Council taking on other Councils’ housing requirements to protect their countryside by building their houses in Central Bedfordshire. Currently Milton Keynes Council is planning to develop land inside Central Bedfordshire around Hulcote, Salford and Aspley Guise. So far our representatives on the Council have not responded to their electors concerns about these planned developments.

Currently developers contribute to funding infrastructure through s106 agreements.  The application of this income will slow down and diminish over the next 5 years. Recent changes to regulations discourage Councils from pooling too much of this funding before it is spent. As well the Government wants the Community Infrastructure Levy to replace s106 funding as CIL will reduce developers upfront contribution to infrastructure costs. These changes will result in Council Tax payers funding in part the revenue costs resulting in shortfalls between the costs of infrastructure and income from s106 and CIL.

The Woodside Link Road at Houghton Regis North is one example of a £17 million infrastructure funding shortfall that will be funded in part by the Council Tax payer over the next 5 years. A study of recent planning applications raises further concern as s106 agreements will be used to fund the building of new social care homes on the back of increasingly unaffordable housing development. This strategy jeopardises the prospects of the delivery of social care homes at a pace commensurate with increasing demand.

Recently I have commented on the difficulty electors are likely to experience when they try to engage with the Budget 2016 consultation. My own experience and the experiences of other Green Belt Parish Councils in the Toddington Ward is our representatives Cllr Nicols and Cllr Costain have done nothing to explain the new budget’s content or the alternatives they and the Council can choose between. Assuming they understand the Budget and what the alternatives are.

There is a democratic deficit in the Toddington Ward and probably across the rest of Central Bedfordshire because the majority of our representatives regularly fail to meaningfully engage with electors and Town & Parish Councils on significant issues such as the Development Strategy and the Budget. Preferring to consult through questionnaires based on limited and false alternatives rather than by face to face meetings where they explain the choices they make on their electors’ behalf. Clearly this democratic deficit has arisen because our representatives do not want their electors to understand the reasons for their choices in case electors disagree with them and vote differently in future.

 

On Central Bedfordshire Council’s Budget 2016 Consultation

Charles

Thank you for replying and answering my question about the revenue implications of the capital budget set out in the Council’s Medium Term Financial Plan. On the subject of the budget consultation process; The Council offers a telephone contact option for electors who want to ask questions about budget consultation documents. The telephone option I used last week put me through to a ‘customer service’ team after a wrangle with the automated answering service. I was assured by the team that I would be contacted with an answer to my question. I wasn’t. On calling the team again they said they were not qualified to answer my question. This why I contacted you and Cllr Wenham directly. I am sure you can appreciate the frustration this would cause any elector who wants to participate in budget consultation in an informed and more meaningful way through a better understanding of the alternatives electors’ political representatives can choose between.

Please forward these comments to whoever is responsible for the Council’s ‘customer service’ team and the budget consultation process.

Regards

Michael Stonnell

Chair Sundon Parish Council

Comment on Luton’s Local Plan

Duty to Co-operate

The Council asks whether respondents’ believe its Local Plan complies with the Duty to Co-operate. It is not possible to answer this question because the Council has not provided any DCLG Planning Practice Guidance evidence to support its statements about co-operation. The Council’s neighbour Central Bedfordshire Council has approved a Framework Plan for the North of Luton that cuts off South Central Bedfordshire Parishes’ access to Luton along Sundon Park Road. Luton Council say in their Local Plan there is limited access from the North to Luton and that this will cause increased congestion in the Borough over the period of the Local Plan. So for Central Bedfordshire to cut off access to Luton indicates a lack of co-operation on transport policy.

Policy LP2 Spatial Strategy

This policy is unsound because it does not deliver the 17 800 new houses identified in the Council’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment.

Policy LP4 Green Belt

This policy is unsound because it does not specify the special circumstances that permit inappropriate development. Large scale housing and commercial development on the Green Belt has been deemed inappropriate by Planning Inspectors. Luton is encircled by Green Belt and crossed north of Luton by the Chilterns AONB. Meeting Luton’s unmet housing in these areas constitutes inappropriate development.

Policy LP5 Land South of Stockwood Park

This policy is unsound because there is no master development plan for the area that could possibly achieve the policy objective of conserving and enhancing the appearance of the adjoining Green Belt, Area of Great Landscape Value, County Wildlife Site, QE11 Playing Fields and the Chilterns AONB.

Policy LP8 Napier Park

This policy is unsound because it does not deliver a large enough contribution towards meeting Luton’s need for 17 800 new houses. Land for office and industrial uses at Napier Park has been available since November 2014 and the site is yet to deliver any employment spaces.

Policy LP9 Power Court

This policy is unsound because it does not deliver a large enough contribution towards meeting Luton’s need for 17 800 new houses. Luton’s previous 2001 – 2011 Local Plan allocated Power Court for development as a mixed housing and business site over 10 years ago. No developer has put forward a master plan for this area since 2006.

Policy LP16 Affordable Housing

This policy is unsound because it does not ensure the delivery of the 20% affordable housing the Council’s Strategic Housing Market Assessment says is needed. The amount of affordable housing depends on house prices, the cost of borrowing or renting and the economic viability of development sites. The Council has no control over house prices or the cost of borrowing. Nevertheless if a development site is unviable because of the need for 20% affordable housing the Council could provide support to ensure its viability.

Policy LP38 Pollution and Contamination

This policy is unsound because it does not stipulate air quality management for known poor air quality areas. The Council’s Annual Public Health Report 2013 – 2014 (page 64) sets out the number of deaths and reduced life expectancy caused by air pollution in Luton. The approaches to Luton Airport are not within an Air Quality Management Area therefore the impact of increased vehicle movements due to the recently approved expansion of operations at London Luton Airport is not being assessed and reported. The Council’s Air Quality Assessment 2012 says the airport approach has air pollution exceeding the Air Quality (England) Regulations 2000. The potential adverse impact of vehicle emissions on air quality caused by new development at Napier Park and Power Court has not been properly considered in the Council’s Sustainability Appraisal.

How flawed housing targets threaten our countryside

How flawed housing targets threaten our countryside

New research shows that local housing targets are driven by over-ambition rather than need

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is today calling for an overhaul of the way local authorities set housing targets in order to stop countryside being lost unnecessarily [1].

Extensive research commissioned by CPRE has shown that local authorities are in effect being asked to base their plans on aspiration rather than need, which is resulting in ever higher housing targets and the consequent, unnecessary release of countryside for development [2] – without resulting in an increase in overall housebuilding.

Among a large number of problems with how the targets are calculated [3], the research found a lack of clear guidance in the process, a lack of objectivity in the calculations, and a lack of concern for land availability and environmental impacts.

The research demonstrates that the unrealistic targets are putting undue pressure on the countryside. Setting targets far higher than what can be realistically built just means that developers have more sites to choose from: as static building rates show, higher targets do not mean faster delivery [4]. The disastrous consequence is that when these unrealistic targets are not met, councils have to identify even more sites for housing, and ever more countryside is released for more lucrative development while brownfield sites go unused [5].

Matt Thomson, head of planning at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said:

“It is vital that we build more homes, but this will not be achieved through ever higher housing targets based on ambition rather than actual need. The current process is not only highly damaging to our countryside and the environment in general; it is also damaging to community well-being and extraordinarily frustrating for local people.

“Through its planning inspectors and the threat of expensive appeals, the Government is taking a top-down approach to impose and enforce housing targets – despite ministers calling for more localism. Instead, we need to see a more accurate definition of community need at the heart of all local plans, and more consideration for environmental concerns and land availability. Councils should not be penalised for failing to meet implausible ambitions for growth over and above actual housing need.”

To illustrate the unrealistic nature of the housing targets, CPRE has analysed the local plans passed in the past two years that have contained a new housing target. In those 54 local plans, the average housing requirement is 30% above the Government’s household projections, and 50% above the average build rate. Only seven of the 54 targets take environmental factors into account [6].

To ensure that we build the homes we actually need in the right places, CPRE is calling for community surveys to play a far greater role in determining true need; for available brownfield land to play a leading role in developing targets; and for planning guidance to include a clear definition of housing need that is designed to support those who lack housing, and to ensure local plans specify what kind of homes will meet this need.

Case studies

Oxfordshire

The Oxfordshire SHMA, published in March 2014, suggests the need for an extra 100,000 houses in the county by 2031. This is the equivalent to two new cities the size of Oxford in just 17 years. This could lead to roughly 200,000 more people – a 30% increase in the population – much higher than the 10% anticipated UK population growth for the same period. The SHMA figures would mean building at virtually double any previous rate. The housing targets in the SHMA are having a direct effect on the countryside, for example the draft Vale of White Horse District Local Plan proposes 1,400 houses in the North Wessex Downs AONB and 1,500 houses across four sites in the Green Belt, contrary to NPPF policy.

North Somerset

Communities and Local Government Secretary of State Greg Clark recently approved a planning inspector’s recommendation to increase housing targets for North Somerset Council. The council has been waiting for their local plan to be approved for three and a half years. The plan was given the go-ahead by a planning inspector in 2012 but the housing target was subsequently successfully challenged in the courts. Since that time the council has done more work on their housing target and arrived at a figure of 17,000, but a planning inspector said that this should be raised to at least 21,000 to meet figures set out in a housing assessment. Development potential in North Somerset is highly constrained by Green Belt, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and areas at high risk of flooding. This means that the council cannot show that enough houses are likely to get built over the next five years to meet the higher figure. If this situation remains unchanged, it will trigger a national policy which voids the local plan and allows developers to pounce on greenfield sites that are not currently allocated for housing. It would also be likely to lead to the loss of Green Belt land.

Notes for editors

[1] CPRE, Set up to fail: why housing targets based on flawed numbers threaten our countryside, November 2015

[2] CPRE commissioned Housing Vision, housing market consultants, and Tibbalds Planning and Urban Design, to research and review the methodologies used to determine “objectively assessed need” for housing since the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in 2012. Their report is available from the CPRE website here.

Housing Vision and Tibbalds, Smarter SHMAs: a review of Objectively Assessed Need in England, commissioned by CPRE, November 2015.

[3] At the heart of these issues is the requirement for local authorities to identify the need for housing and then meet that need in full in their local plans. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out how to determine “objectively assessed housing need”. Online Government guidance in the National Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) provides a recommended approach to deciding” objectively assessed need” through a Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA).

[4] Government data show that 242,000 houses were given planning permission in the year up to June 2015. Yet housing starts and completions show little sign of matching this number. Quarterly statistics on housing starts show that building rates have been static since the beginning of 2014 – at around 136,000 per year. The latest data show completions are currently at 131,000.

[5] The situation is then made worse because if housebuilding in an area falls below these five-year targets, the local plan that contains these targets – and the protection for land not classed as suitable for housing – no longer applies. Once that happens, local authorities can be forced to allow house building on greenfield land, whether it meets a community’s needs or not.

Meanwhile, CPRE’s 2014 report From wasted space to living spaces found that at least a million new homes could be built on suitable brownfield land across England, and that brownfield land is a self-regenerating resource. CPRE, From wasted space to living spaces, November 2014. 

[6] CPRE’s new research, distinct from that of Tibbalds and Housing Vision, assessed all local plans outside of London containing housing targets adopted between April 2013 and July 2015. See CPRE, Set up to fail, November 2015.

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Building free-for-all as Central Bedfordshire Council abandons its Development Strategy

Local countryside champion CPRE Bedfordshire is warning that villages could see a free-for-all in house building on green fields as developers take advantage of Central Bedfordshire having no Development Strategy.

In recent months, Cranfield, Langford, Houghton Conquest and Shefford have all fallen prey to speculative developers, who have been given permission to build hundreds of dwellings on the edge of their settlements.

Last month plans for a development west of Sandy between the River Ivel and A1 were put forward that includes over 200 dwellings and 15,000 sq ft of office space. Without a Development Strategy to demonstrate that the council has a five-year’s supply of housing land, Central Bedfordshire Council (CBC) will have very few grounds on which to refuse it.

Although the Council had originally refused the applications for 110 dwellings in Langford and 140 dwellings in Shefford, the developers won their cases on Appeal, with the lack of an up-to-date Development Strategy given as a key reason in both cases. Since then CBC has approved developments of 230 dwellings in Cranfield and 125 homes in Houghton Conquest.

The Council has a duty to produce a Development Strategy for Central Bedfordshire, demonstrating a planned approach to meeting its future housing needs, including a five year supply of deliverable housing land. Without this the Council has little grounds with which to refuse planning permission for housing developments.

Earlier this year, Central Bedfordshire Council failed to get its Development Strategy approved by a Government Planning Inspector and last month issued a statement that it plans to withdraw it following an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a Judicial Review aimed at overturning the Inspector’s decision.

A spokesperson for CPRE Bedfordshire said: “Central Bedfordshire Council has failed in its duty to provide a Development Strategy for the area. We fear that this will open the floodgates for speculative developers to build hundreds of houses on the edge of local villages. The Council is now in a very weakened position with very few grounds to stop these.”

Notes to editors:

  1. In recent months, permission for up to 605 homes has been given in the following Central Bedfordshire settlements. These are:
  2. Langford (CB/14/00186/OUT) –  Application by Gladman developments for up to 110 houses – Appeal against refusal allowed 29/06/2015
  3. Shefford (CB/14/01726/OUT) –  Application by Catesby Estates for up to 140 houses –  Appeal against refusal allowed 2/9/2015
  4. Cranfield, Mill Road (CB/14/05007/OUT) – Application by Gladman Developments for up to 230 houses – Application granted by CBC’s Development Management Committee (DMC) 16/9/2015
  5. Houghton Conquest, Chapel End Road (CB/15/01362/OUT) – Application by Gladman Developments for up to 125 houses –  Application granted by DMC 16/9/2015
  6. Applications for an additional 200 homes west of Sandy and 50 in Houghton Conquest are currently with the Council:
  7. CB/15/03937/OUT  Land West of Sandy between A1 and River Ivel, Noth of Girtford Bridge – Outline planning application on the Land West of Sandy (Girtford Bridge) for up to 216 residential dwellings, 8 self build plots, 138-bed Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC) and approximately 15,000sqft B1 (Office) development with all matters reserved, except access.
  8. Houghton Conquest, Bedford Road (CB/15/03706/OUT).  Application by Templeview Developments for up to 52 houses, currently under Consultation.    Consultation closes 3/11/2015.
  9. On the Council’s websites 7/10/15: “At the Council’s Executive Meeting on 6 October 2015, Members agreed to recommend to Full Council (19 November 2015) that the Development Strategy be withdrawn and to discontinue legal proceedings. Members noted that work would begin immediately on a new Local Plan.”

Letter from Greg Clark MP Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government

I have just received a response from the National Planning Casework Unit about Sundon Parish Council’s request for the Secretary of State Department of Communities and Local Government to intervene in planning applications for developments at Houghton Regis North (see my blog post of 27th July).

The Secretary of State Greg Clark MP has decided not to ‘call in’ these planning applications for the reasons that can be found in his letter 150918-notify_sundon_parish_council

Sundon Parish Council’s response is:

Sundon Parish Council wants a Local Plan that best meets the needs of Central Bedfordshire residents. In principle the Council is not against development. Although the Secretary of State says decisions where possible should be made at a local level he doesn’t appear to take into account the plan making competence of local decision makers. As a consequence Central Bedfordshire residents will have to suffer outcomes of an unsound Local Plan and according to recent legal advice an unlawful North of Luton Framework Plan. (This advice can be found here Harlington Parish Council advice – Sarah Sackman – 14.09.15 ).

The Secretary of State should be reminded these unsatisfactory outcomes have occurred within the context of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) he introduced. Therefore he is ultimately responsible for allowing the incremental implementation of unsound and unlawful plans.