Minister attacks neighbourhood plan policy

The planning minister has slammed a draft policy in an emerging neighbourhood plan in Cornwall as 'totally inappropriate' for trying to ban the building of second homes.

St Ives: council concerned that increase in second homes is damaging communities. [pic Robert Pittman/Flickr]
St Ives: council concerned that increase in second homes is damaging communities. [pic Robert Pittman/Flickr]

The St Ives neighbourhood plan is due to be published in draft form for consultation next week. It will include a policy that says new homes should be provided for those whose primary residence is in the town, rather than being second homes.

Another policy would require that at least 50 per cent of new builds are provided as affordable housing to meet local need. About 25 per cent of the parish’s housing stock is second homes, according to local reports.

In response to the plan, planning minister Brandon Lewis said: "National planning policy is clear that councils should plan for a mix of housing and any planning conditions must be reasonable and enforceable.

"Trying to control private ownership via the planning system will require intrusive inspectors to monitor the usage of every home and state surveillance of every property."

Lewis added that "owning property is a human right and a fundamental British liberty", and said it would be better to get more homes built.

However, a primary residence policy has already been implemented in another adopted neighbourhood plan in Devon, covering the parish of Lynton and Lynmouth in Exmoor National Park (see panel below). A Cornwall Council spokesman said two other emerging neighbourhood plans in the county, in St Minver and Roseland, take a similar line.

Edwina Hannaford, Lib Dem cabinet member for planning at Cornwall Council, said the policy is likely to use planning conditions or planning gain obligations to control property occupancy. Such occupancy conditions have already been used to provide agricultural or affordable housing, she pointed out.

According to Hannaford, some Cornish villages and towns have as many as 50 per cent of homes that are secondary residences. This affects house prices and makes it difficult for young people and families to stay, she argued. It is also harming local services and infrastructure, she said.

She added: "Some villages are becoming sterile, so we understand why St Ives is doing it and support it. We are likely to see more communities take the same stance."

Responding to Lewis’ comments, she said: "The sustainability of those communities trumps any individual right to buy a second home. If a community agrees a neighbourhood plan and it passes a referendum, it’s their choice. Why is the government saying you cannot do it?"

Experts are divided on whether Lewis’ comments could affect the plan’s examination. Consultant Gary Kirk, a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors neighbourhood planning referral service, thought it could do so.

"It’s a strong statement to make. The risk is that it may constitute a material consideration. Examiners may take that into account," he said.

Neighbourhood planning consultant Chris Bowden, director of Navigus Planning, said: "It is not a formal statement, but an examiner would have to be mindful of it."

But Elizabeth Boyd, associate director at planning consultancy Tetlow King, does not think that Lewis’ comment will have an effect.

She said: "It was not made in any regulatory framework. I don’t think that there’s anything he can do. The Lynton neighbourhood plan was examined and passed referendum last year so a precedent has been set."

Bowden added that many neighbourhood planning groups are keen on such measures to ensure that local people have access to housing, but he said it is vital to have strong evidence in support.

Kirk said he thinks that the policy is consistent with the National Planning Policy Framework’s call for a mix of housing.

Case Study: Lynton and Lynmouth

The adopted Lynton and Lynmouth Neighbourhood Development Plan (LynPlan) in Exmoor national park has a "principal residential occupancy" policy, meaning that homes are built only as main residences.

The LynPlan policy, which passed examination and referendum last year, states that "proposals for principal residence housing will be supported", as long as they "meet the housing needs of local people". Meanwhile, "open market housing" without an occupation restriction is opposed.

Another policy states advantages people with a "local connection" for affordable housing. Neighbourhood plan steering group chairman and Conservative district and county councillor Andrea Davis said two housing applications had been approved so far under the policy.

The plan’s examiner, Graham Self, said the "need to provide affordable housing for local people was one of the points most frequently mentioned by respondents to the consultation", and without it "an important element of the neighbourhood plan would be lost".

Davis, also chairman of the Exmoor National Park Authority, said its emerging local plan also includes a similar policy on primary residency.

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