Hertfordshire Local Plan Watch - Spring 2022
Hertfordshire continues to be a mixed bag as far as Local Plan progress is concerned. However, very little changes and it remains a political drama with the Green Belt and housing requirements the main protagonists.
Momentum differs greatly east to west across the County with the few that are progressing firmly bogged down in drawn-out examinations and modifications.
In the East, we painfully still await the outcome of the Inspectors thoughts on North Hertfordshire’s fortunes, whereas the arm wrestle between Welwyn Hatfield and their respective Inspector continues with yet more plot twists than a Richard Osmond novel!
Moving on to the wild South-West, there is a pattern of kicking things into the long grass it seems with the thought of up to date plans by Dec 2023 a distant memory; clearly in hope of some good news from the governments levelling up agenda on housing requirements and the role of the Green Belt.
As such, opportunities for strategic land remain in limbo for now, with emerging plans too far off in the distance to judge how existing site promotions may fair, whereas the prospect of new opportunities awaiting the outcome of the outstanding examinations and the potential for early reviews.
In many ways the position across Hertfordshire represents the perfect case study for the current issues with the plan led system and particularly the dichotomy between public perception on the planning system and the governments procrastination on its reform.
Housing Land Supply
As alluded to by my colleague Simon Elliott back in April, the Nov 2021 Housing Delivery Test is the shop window for the lack of delivery across the County, with 6 out of 10 Districts identified as ‘Presumption in Favour’ Authorities (less than 75% of their housing requirement).
Simon shines the light on the extent of this poor performance (namely due to the lack of up to date Local Plans against the protectionism of the Green Belt) by highlighting that the shortfall has grown over the last 3yrs alone by approximately 9,800 homes.
The latest affordability ratios, which are used to calculate local housing need, were published in March 2022 and show the effect of this on local communities. The latest median workplace-based affordability ratio for Hertfordshire is 12.86, compared to the national average of 9.05. More importantly, the lower quartile workplace-based affordability ratio is 13.44 compared to the national average of 8.04. Therefore, the chances of those working in Hertfordshire, particularly those on the lowest wages, being able to afford to live in the County are rapidly diminishing; this is not about houses for London commuters but rather the local community.
There have been various commentaries of late suggesting that, nationally, some of the affordability issues stem from a lack of wage growth in recent years. However, the graph below shows that in Hertfordshire wage growth has been largely consistent since 2002, averaging about 2.5% per annum. By comparison, house prices have averaged about 9.5% growth per annum.
This is clearly unsustainable and is clearly harming the very communities that these LPAs purport to represent. Clearly, therefore a step change in housing supply is essential.
Housing Land Supply Continued
In our Autumn update, I highlighted the Colney Heath appeal decision as potentially an important window for how such a bleak under supply of housing may be resolved. However the speed of decision making both at the local level and via appeal in addition to the acute criteria that such cases are subject to means that such relief it merely a drop in the ocean.
Windfall opportunities on the grounds of housing land supply remain limited and subject to the particular merits of each case. Nothing new there, although it is clear that one eye needs to be focused on what the Spring ‘Levelling Up’ announcements will bring in respect to the status of the Green Belt and of course any changes to the Standard Method for calculating five-year housing land supply.
Patience is very much the order of the day when it comes to all things planning in Hertfordshire. As a resident and taxpayer, I have poetic licence to be a frustrated sceptic, as notwithstanding housing, the lack of strategic plan led thinking is holding up much needed investment in employment, education, infrastructure and the sustainability agenda.
For detail on emerging Local Plan position in Hertfordshire please click on the map below.