Inspector rejects housebuilder's claim that Covid-19 has cut Essex council's five year land supply

A planning inspector has rejected an appeal against an Essex council's refusal of plans for a 255-home scheme, dismissing a housebuilder's arguments that the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic meant the authority was unable to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply.

Maldon Road, Tiptree - photo © John Firth (cc-by-sa/2.0)
Maldon Road, Tiptree - photo © John Firth (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The appeal was made by housebuilder Bloor Homes against the decision of Colchester Borough Council.

The firm had sought outline consent for up to 255 dwellings, with associated car parking, landscaping, public open space areas, sustainable urban drainage systems, a link road, and associated infrastructure on a site in Tiptree.

Inspector John Felgate's report said the housebuilder had argued that, due to the economic impacts of the pandemic, key sites identified as part of the council's five-year housing land supply were now deemed "undeliverable", due to the pandemic's impact on the housing market and wider economy.

However, the inspector said he had examined the sites against the National Planning Policy Framework's (NPPF's) "overarching test for deliverability, which is that sites should be available, suitable, and achievable with a realistic prospect of housing being delivered within five years".

The inspector found that the council could demonstrate 5.15 year's worth of deliverable housing land.

He concluded: "In Colchester, it is clear from the evidence before me that, despite the difficulties, continued progress has been made on a number of the major housing sites, and also on the emerging draft local plan and the [draft Tiptree Neighbourhood Plan].

"As things stand therefore, the evidence available does not justify making any allowance or adjustment to the five-year supply on account of the effects on the planning process."

The inspector found that the five-year housing land supply "is concerned only with the number of deliverable sites, and that figure is entirely separate from the number of houses actually built and occupied".

He added that the provisions in the NPPF "that trigger the tilted balance, and with it the presumption in favour of sustainable development, relate only to the number of sites and their deliverability. Forecasts of the pandemic's effects on actual housing delivery are not directly relevant to this exercise."

Dismissing the appeal, the inspector concluded that the proposed development would conflict with local planning policy, "due to its location in the countryside, and also due to its adverse impact on the local landscape and townscape in causing coalescence between Tiptree and Tiptree Heath".

The inspector added that, even if the NPPF's tilted balance had applied, he considered that the harm to the area's character and appearance "would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits", including "the provision of market and affordable housing, construction employment and increased local spending".

A Planning analysis piece examining why the pandemic may make it harder for councils to defend their housing land supply positions can be read here.

In April, a planning inspector said that local authority housing land supply positions may need to be reduced to take into account the likely impact of the coronavirus pandemic on housing delivery.

In June, seven councils in East Sussex wrote to the secretary of state calling for the suspension of five-year land supply requirements and the relaxation of the housing delivery test in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic to avoid a "surge of speculative applications".

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