Briefing: The implications of the new definition of housing site 'deliverability'

The government's new definition of housing site 'deliverability' introduces a tough test for councils and developers, says Mike Kiely.

Housing: new definition of housing site 'deliverability' in NPPF
Housing: new definition of housing site 'deliverability' in NPPF

Q How does the new National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) define "deliverable" housing?

A Deliverable sites for housing should be available now, offer a suitable location for development now and be achievable, with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years, according to the revised NPPF. The requirement for a housing site to be viable has been removed from the definition. This is probably because it is unnecessary, as viability should be implicit in the other criteria, but it may also reflect a broader shift in the approach to viability in the new NPPF.

As set out in October’s technical consultation on updates to national planning policy and guidance, the definition states that major sites with detailed planning permission and all other sites with either detailed or outline permission will be considered deliverable until the permission expires, unless there is clear evidence otherwise. But it adds that a site with outline permission for major development, a permission in principle or a local plan or brownfield register allocation can only be considered deliverable "where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years". This is a new test – and a tough one.

Q How will the new definition change what local planning authorities (LPAs) have to do to demonstrate deliverability?

A The changes are designed to tighten up the requirement on LPAs to demonstrate that sites included in their five-year housing land supply will be delivered during the relevant period, particularly those without detailed planning permission. Councils will have to provide conclusive evidence at local plan examinations that sites without permission in their five-year trajectory will be delivered during that period. However, this could be an impossible test. How can a LPA, which does not build the homes, or even the developer, prove they will be built within five years?

Planning Practice Guidance states that evidence demonstrating completion timescales could take the form of statements of common ground confirming delivery intentions and anticipated timescales, and planning performance agreements setting out key milestones. Councils will have the opportunity to produce an annual position statement to show that their five-year housing land supply is still up to date, but there will be much bureaucracy in getting one approved.

Q What impact will the change have on how LPAs establish a robust housing land supply?

A LPAs will need to have a much greater focus on delivery. How the change will impact on a particular proposal will depend on the circumstances. For example, the NPPF suggests discussions with developers to encourage subdivision of large sites where this could help to speed up delivery of new homes. Developers with a poor delivery record are likely to face stricter conditions on start dates to put them under pressure to deliver. More generally, the need for necessary supporting infrastructure will have to be more actively considered and ways found to fund and deliver it.

Q What impact will the change have on developers who wish to progress their sites in local plans or submit planning applications for housing proposals?

A The NPPF ups the ante in that both LPAs and developers have to be far more committed to housing delivery. For developers, this means being much clearer about when they intend to start, how long it will take to build out and how any prerequisites (such as supporting infrastructure) will be delivered. Early engagement will be important.

Q What could be the long-term impacts of the new definition?

A LPAs are likely to become more proactive in delivering housing, either via their own delivery vehicles or in partnership with developers. The abolition of the housing revenue account borrowing cap – designed to encourage more delivery of social housing – announced at the Conservative Party conference will help. We are also likely to see greater use of compulsory purchase order powers to get housing delivered.

Mike Kiely is chair of the Planning Officers Society

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