MHCLG revises Lewes housing delivery test result following legal challenge

The government has revised an East Sussex council's housing delivery test result after the authority launched a High Court challenge to the figures and Whitehall officials concluded that "unique circumstances" existed to justify amending them.

The MHCLG offices in central London
The MHCLG offices in central London

The housing delivery test was introduced in July 2018’s revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

The test applies sanctions to all local planning authorities in which, in the three years up to the preceding April, housing delivery was less than 95 per cent of the requirement, with the severity of the sanction varying according to the extent of the underperformance.

Under the test's criteria, all authorities delivering under 95 per cent of their housing requirement have to produce an action plan detailing the reasons why they are under-delivering and how they will address them.

Those under 85 per cent of their requirement are required to add a 20 per cent buffer to their five-year housing land supply requirement, instead of the usual five per cent buffer.

Meanwhile, the worst performers - those under 25 per cent in 2018, rising to 45 per cent in 2019 and 75 per cent in 2020 - risk seeing housing schemes approved on unallocated land due to the application of the NPPF's presumption in favour of sustainable development.

February’s results showed that 86 councils had delivered under 85 per cent, which meant they had to add a 20 per cent buffer to their land supply.

Lewes District Council in East Sussex was among the 86 councils.

However, the local authority decided to launch a High Court legal challenge against its result.

According to a statement from the council, the consequence of delivery falling below 85 per cent "would have resulted in the council losing its five-year housing land supply and, as a consequence, its local plan would be treated as ‘out of date’ and irrelevant when determining planning applications.

Neighbourhood plans over two years old would also "effectively become redundant", it added.

The authority said that the case had been listed for a final hearing at the High Court later this month.

However, it added that the MHCLG "has now accepted the evidence put forward by Lewes District Council and a revised housing delivery test result of 86 per cent has been issued".

A letter sent to the council by MHCLG said that "unique circumstances" had been demonstrated by the council to justify it revising the figure.

Key to these was a High Court challenge that resulted in parts of a joint core strategy put together by the South Downs National Park and Lewes District Council being quashed in March 2017.

Lewes Council said its housing requirement figure set out in the adopted joint core strategy was originally a joint figure that had to be "disaggregated" following the partial quashing of the document.

The MHCLG letter said that, as a result of Lewes’ evidence, the "resultant housing requirement figure is lower than household projections in each of the monitoring years", giving the council a delivery test result of 86 per cent.

Councillor Emily O’Brien, cabinet member for planning at Lewes Council said: "The revised test result means that Lewes District Council can demonstrate we have an up-to-date local plan and that planning decisions can be made in accordance with our adopted local plan, which includes the policies in our adopted local neighbourhood plans."

The MHCLG letter said: "We do not usually amend housing delivery test results but have done so here given your unique circumstances. However, the new result, and the method of calculating the decision, do not bind the secretary of state in any future housing delivery test calculation.

"Upon receipt of this letter, this result will remain in place until the next full publication of the housing delivery test measurement."

In September, housing minister Esther McVey said the housing delivery test results for 2019 are due to be published in November.

Planning’s recent special report on housing delivery test action plans can be read here.

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