Gavin Barwell MP (Minister of State for Housing and Planning) yesterday made a Written Ministerial Statement (WMS) changing when policies within a Neighbourhood Plan (NP) can be considered out of date in relation to five year housing land supply.
This clarification has, apparently, been brought about in response to frustrations raised by local communities who have had their NPs undermined due to the LPA not being able to demonstrate a supply of deliverable housing sites to meet the needs of the wider local authority area over the next five years.
From 12 December 2016 NPs should not be considered out of date where all of the following circumstances arise at the time the decision is made:
- The written ministerial statement is less than 2 years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for 2 years or less;
- The neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and
- The local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites.
The WMS goes on to set out that it should be read in conjunction with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and that it is a material consideration in making planning decisions.
The WMS does set out that the White Paper on Housing, due to be brought forward in due course, will more clearly ensure that NPs meet their fair share of local housing need, but only time will tell what this actually means in practice.
Finally, the WMS extends, for a further 6 months, the criteria for consideration of the recovery of planning appeals to include proposals for residential development over 25 dwellings in areas where a qualifying body has submitted a neighbourhood plan proposal to the local planning authority but the relevant plan has not been made.#
Whilst the WMS appears to make clear that all of the listed conditions must be satisfied in order for NPs not to be considered out of date, this is nonetheless a much higher bar than currently in place for Local Plans and again demonstrates the considerable amount of weight being given to a plan that is not subject to Examination in Public. It also begs the question as to what is so special about 3 years in the definition of an undersupply of housing land and how many ‘sites’ might an NP need to allocate and for how many dwellings? Whilst there is reference to NPs being expected to ‘meet their fair share of local housing need’ we still await the publication of the Housing White Paper, which we expect to see in January 2017, and beyond that a large questions remains as to when any such provisions might be fully incorporated into the Local Plan/ Neighbourhood Plan process.
In larger administrative areas, where there is a five-year supply deficit, such a move could also have wider implications for the distribution of new housing, whereby it is directed disproportionately towards areas that do not have a Neighbourhood Plan in place, without any consideration as to whether this is appropriate or sustainable; seemingly contrary to the NPPF. At a time when the Government has made clear that the housing crisis is a major priority, this WMS appears somewhat to go against the grain. Its timing is also a little odd and it can only be assumed that we are currently seeing only one part of the puzzle with the remainder to follow in the White Paper on Housing.
Suffice it to say that given the apparently arbitrary nature of the three year threshold and the ambiguity around the allocation of ‘sites’ in an NP it seems as though it will only be a matter of time before this becomes the subject of a number of Appeals or quite possibly ends up in the Courts.