Letter: Tighter definition of what makes a housing plan deliverable will help developers

By now we all know the importance placed on councils being able to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply. Without it, local planning policies are considered out-of-date and decisions made based on national policies instead. This has been a critical route to securing planning permission in recent years.

To count towards that five-year supply, homes must be "deliverable". The original National Planning Policy Framework was a little vague when it came to defining what that meant. The result was a slew of contradictory appeal decisions culminating in a High Court judgment, known as St Modwen [2017 EWCA (Civ) 1643].

The judgment essentially concluded that many types of sites - those with both detailed and outline planning permission, plus local plan allocations - should be assumed to be capable of delivering in the next five years unless there was evidence to the contrary.

This interpretation made it somewhat easier for councils to show they had a deliverable five-year supply.
When the revised framework was published this summer, it changed the definition of deliverable. The new wording, tucked away in Annex 2, seemed to make it somewhat harder to demonstrate that sites were deliverable. Only small sites and those with a detailed permission were presumed to be deliverable.

At the end of September, the planning appeal decision in a case in Suffolk (DCS number: 200-007-929) provided the first evidence of how this new definition will be applied in practice. It makes good reading for developers.

Writing about sites with outline planning permission, the inspector observed "the onus is on the council to provide the clear evidence that each of these sites would start to provide housing completions within five years."

This is a significant shift. No longer is it acceptable for councils to assume sites are deliverable unless it is proved otherwise. Other than sites with a detailed planning permission, there is no longer an "automatic right" for inclusion in the supply. Instead, the council must engage with applicants and land owners and gather evidence that sites are deliverable.

The same is true for allocated development sites, those on brownfield land registers and those with permission in principle - the revised framework groups them all together.

Many councils rely heavily on sites like these for their housing land supplies. While they will still have an important role to play in ensuring housing is delivered, councils will need to work harder to demonstrate that they will deliver.

That information gathering is likely to prove relatively simple once councils get into the swing of it - but it will result in some sites being discounted, reducing housing supplies.

For a time, at least, it's also likely to cause significant reductions in the deliverable housing supply of some councils while they gather the evidence they need.

Paul Smith, managing director, Strategic Land Group

Please submit your letters by emailing planning@haymarket.com


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