NPPF deliverability test puts pressure on green belt sites, says residents' group councillor

The 'strict' national policy test on deliverability is making it hard for councils to allocate brownfield sites in local plans forcing them to propose developing green belt land instead, according to a newly-elected Surrey residents' association councillor.

John Rigg, deputy lead for sustainable transport, transformation, regeneration and economic development at Guildford Borough Council (left) and Peter Lundgren, the opposition deputy leader at North Kesteven District Council
John Rigg, deputy lead for sustainable transport, transformation, regeneration and economic development at Guildford Borough Council (left) and Peter Lundgren, the opposition deputy leader at North Kesteven District Council

John Rigg, deputy lead for sustainable transport, transformation, regeneration and economic development at Guildford Borough Council, was speaking at the Planning for Housing conference yesterday. 

Rigg, a member of the Residents for Guildford and Villages party, was speaking at a session on how newly-elected resident-led political parties are intending to approach planning for housing.

Rigg was one of 15 independent councillors elected to the authority in May's local elections, which resulted in the Conservatives losing control.

Just before the election, the council adopted a controversial local plan, which allocates three major green belt site allocations for a total of 5,200 homes. The plan is now subject to three judicial review challenges, which have just been heard at the High Court. 

Rigg said he thought the previous Tory administration had opted to allocate large strategic sites on green belt because it believed this would speed up housing delivery.

He said: "If a council chooses to develop green belt sites, they have to close off and dismiss as many brownfield sites as they can. 

"The council was saying 'No, these sites are not deliverable.' To a degree, when you read the National Planniong Policy Framework definition of what are deliverable sites, they were probably right. 

"It's such a severe test. It meant all the brownfield sites in Guildford were dismissed."

The February 2019 version of the NPPF states that for local plan housing sites to be considered "deliverable", they "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 Rigg, identified brownfield sites that do not comply with NPPF criteria are "forgotten and not advanced". 

When Guildford's local plan is reviewed in four years' time, he said he expects the same brownfield sites to "still be excluded", which means the plan will be "another 'greenfield grab'".

Rigg also said that lower-tier authorities like Guildford are restricted in their ability to support development of urban brownfield sites because, unlike unitary authorities, they have no powers over infrastructure delivery. 

Such powers can act as a "pump primer for delivering new town centre housing", he said, adding: "Guildford can't do that."

He also said poorly-resourced and under-staffed planning teams meant they may be reluctant to carry out any direct development of council-owned urban sites.

Elsewhere, Rigg said he did not expected the legal challenges to the Guildford local plan to succeed because the previous administration had followed the correct process.

He said: "It's a bad plan, but they followed the process exactly. The NPPF doesn't require a good plan but a plan that complies with the process, an adoptable plan. 

"The big loser here is good town planning. The local plan process has been hijacked by housing delivery, so good town planning and masterplanning can't take place."

Also speaking at the same session was councillor Peter Lundgren, the opposition deputy leader at North Kesteven District Council and a member of the Lincolnshire Independents group.

He said that rural parts of Lincolnshire faced the converse challenge of attracting any kind of development.

"I've seen nothing from central government, of any political hue, that is trying to address this," he said.

"They're completely failing us in Lincolnshire."

The joint Central Lincolnshire Local Plan, which covers the City of Lincoln, North Kesteven and West Lindsey council areas, was adopted in 2017 and has a housing target of 37,000 homes over 25 years.

Lundgren said this was substantially higher than the housing need figure calculated using the government's standard method.

Trying to deliver this "very ambitious housing target" has "proved to be a huge challenge", he said, particularly when developers "don't want to come on board".

One consequence is that the authority has a more challenging five-year housing land supply figure to meet.  

Lundgren said: "The problem is you're trying to be ambitious, but you get penalised because you don't have a five-year housing land supply, so your local plan is set aside and you have no control over development in your area." 

An analysis article examining the rise of residents' group and independent political parties in local government and what it means for planning can be found here.


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