Earlier this week, Barwell announced that plans would not automatically be deemed out of date in such circumstances if the following conditions applied when a decision on an application is made:
- This written ministerial statement is less than two years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for two years or less
- The neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing
- The local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites
The move sought to address issues raised via a series of amendments to the Neighbourhood Planning Bill which were tabled by Conservative backbenchers. The amendments were later dropped following the ministerial statement and assurances made by the minister during the bill’s third reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
Reacting to the written ministerial statement, Robin Shepherd, planning partner at Barton Willmore, said: "Many will be asking today how a one page statement can change the National Planning Policy Framework overnight. The conflict between the two policies is huge, and it opens up immediate – and serious – implications for those trying to deliver the government’s stated housing target. Barwell is clearly bending to the will of local MPs and councillors, but it’s the development industry that should have his ear – and they are not going to like this latest u-turn. Taking the pressure off councils to maintain a five year supply of housing will not help the objective of a step-change in housing delivery. By shifting the goalposts, the government is simply putting more obstacles in the way of housing delivery – and ramping up the pressure too."
In a blog post, Simon Packer, director at consultancy Turley, said: "In terms of decision making, applicants and appellants will need to apply a more critical review of a local planning authority’s five year supply to demonstrate that it has less than three years’ supply. It is unclear how this will affect appeals that have been subject to detailed scrutiny of five year supply evidence at an Inquiry but where a decision is yet to be issued. This is particularly the case where a Statement of Common Ground may have been agreed with the LPA confirming a supply greater than three years but less than five or where an Inspector has only concerned themselves with the threshold of five years rather than interrogating the exact extent of supply."
In a statement on its website, consultancy Bidwells said: "Whilst the WMS appears to make clear that all of the listed conditions must be satisfied in order for neighbourhood plans (NPs) not to be considered out of date, this is nonetheless a much higher bar than currently in place for local plans and again demonstrates the considerable amount of weight being given to a plan that is not subject to examination in public. It also begs the question as to what is so special about 3 years in the definition of an undersupply of housing land and how many ‘sites’ might an NP need to allocate and for how many dwellings?
"Whilst there is reference to NPs being expected to ‘meet their fair share of local housing need’ we still await the publication of the Housing White Paper, which we expect to see in January 2017, and beyond that a large questions remains as to when any such provisions might be fully incorporated into the local plan/ neighbourhood plan process. In larger administrative areas, where there is a five-year supply deficit, such a move could also have wider implications for the distribution of new housing, whereby it is directed disproportionately towards areas that do not have a neighbourhood plan in place, without any consideration as to whether this is appropriate or sustainable; seemingly contrary to the NPPF. At a time when the government has made clear that the housing crisis is a major priority, this WMS appears somewhat to go against the grain. Its timing is also a little odd and it can only be assumed that we are currently seeing only one part of the puzzle with the remainder to follow in the White Paper on Housing.
Head of planning at countryside campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Matt Thomson, said: "At first sight it looks like this is a step in the right direction, giving some protection from speculative development proposals to communities that are planning responsibly for the future of their neighbourhoods. More needs to be done, though, and we look forward to the government's promised enhancements to the NP Bill when it moves into the Lords, and of course the proposals of the long-awaited Housing White Paper."
NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN UPDATES
Waddesdon Parish Council published its draft neighbourhood development plan on 5 December 2016.
Calne Town and Calne Without Parish Councils published its draft neighbourhood development plan on 23 November 2016.