What’s that you hear? ‘Tis the sound of goalposts being moved…

This week the Planning Minister, Gavin Barwell MP, made a written statement on neighbourhood planning that will have immediate consequences for the development industry. The statement can be viewed here. In summary, it means that policies for the supply of housing in Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDPs) should not be considered out of date where the following 3 conditions are satisfied:

  1. the written statement is less than 2 years old, or the NDP has been part of the local plan for less than 2 years;
  2. the NDP allocates sites for housing; and
  3. the local planning authority can demonstrate a 3 year supply of deliverable housing sites.

The statement applies for planning application and appeal decisions made on or after 12 December 2016. So, from that date, where there is an NDP that allocates  sites for housing, the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” will only apply where the local planning authority has a housing land supply of less than 3 years – rather than 5 years as was previously the case.

To say that this is a significant change would be an understatement. The announcement, which was not widely trailed, is likely to cause real problems for planning appeals that are currently in the system. Cases reliant on the “weighted balance” in paragraph 14 of the NPPF are likely to be fatally undermined if the local authority can demonstrate a housing land supply of 3 years.

The Government’s reasoning appears to be that the current bar of 5 years is set to high, with the consequence that too many NDPs find themselves immediately “out-of-date” upon adoption because of the housing supply position in the wider local authority area. The Government sees this as unfair: as the statement puts it, “communities who have been proactive and worked hard to bring forward neighbourhood plans are often frustrated that their plan is being undermined because the local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply of deliverable housing sites.”

No doubt this is true, and perhaps this measure will help to boost the public’s confidence in both the system of NDPs and the planning system generally. It is also true, however, that it will inevitably result in the refusal of sustainable housing developments that would previously have been approved – and it shouldn’t be forgotten that local authority areas where a 5 year supply cannot be demonstrated are those suffering from biggest problems in terms of housing delivery in the first place.

With the Neighbourhood Planning Bill currently winding its way through Parliament, NDPs are something of a hot topic in planning at the moment. More on this in a future blog.