Currently the Department of Communities and Local Government are Consulting on proposals for changes to National Planning Policy. These changes can be found here National Planning Policy Consultation
Answers to Consultation Questions
Question 1. Do you have any comments or suggestions about the proposal to amend the definition of affordable housing in national planning policy to include a wider range of low cost home ownership options?
The definition of affordable housing should not be extended to include starter homes. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) defines affordable housing as affordable in perpetuity. This is not the case for starter homes which will enter the normal housing market after 5 years. Starter homes are therefore low cost market housing which is explicitly excluded from the NPPF definition of affordable housing.
The price of new housing in Central Bedfordshire is already unaffordable for most of its residents. New starter homes will mean Central Bedfordshire housing will remain unaffordable. Starter homes will also result in fewer affordable houses being available for rent. This will give to one section of the community that can afford starter homes and take from another less affluent section that cannot afford them.
Question 2. Do you have any views on the implications of the proposed change to the definition of affordable housing on people with protected characteristics as defined in the Equalities Act 2010? What evidence do you have on this matter?
Question 3. Do you agree with the Government’s definition of a commuter hub? If not, what changes do you consider are required?
The two proposed qualities of a commuter hub are alternatives. Therefore policy will apply to a large number and mainline commuter routes into London for example Harpenden in North Hertfordshire and Harlington and Flitwick in Central Bedfordshire. The distance between railway stations in Harpenden and Luton is less than 4 miles, Leagrave and Harlington less than 3 miles, and Harlington and Flitwick less than 3 miles. Therefore large swathes of Green Belt in North Hertfordshire and Central Bedfordshire, and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Central Bedfordshire will be affected.
The definition does not indicate the types of land around commuter hubs affected by this policy. The policy should apply only to land already developed, designated for development or, at least, within the development boundaries of an existing settlement. It should not include Green Belt or AONB’s near to the relevant railway station, for example, Harlington in Central Bedfordshire. There should be a clear Government policy to this effect.
The use of non-operational railway land should be approached with caution so as not to develop land needed for future enhancements to transport infrastructure.
Question 4. Do you have any further suggestions for proposals to support higher density development around commuter hubs through the planning system?
Question 5. Do you agree that the Government should not introduce a minimum level of residential densities in national policy for areas around commuter hubs? If not, why not?
The Council does not agree. A minimum density level will not encourage a better use of land at a sustainable location.
Question 6. Do you consider that national planning policy should provide greater policy support for new settlements in meeting development needs? If not, why not?
The Council does not oppose new settlements separate from existing developments, provided they are big enough to function as self-contained towns, not just dormitories. However, there should not be a supportive approach to urban extensions which involve rolling back the Green Belt. This is just the sort of development that the Green Belt was established to prevent.
Question 7. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of brownfield land for housing? If not, why not and are there any unintended impacts that we should take into account?
The Council supports measures to encourage the reuse of brownfield sites and the development of small windfall sites within existing settlement boundaries. In particular, we support effectively creating a presumption in favour of brownfield sites. We consider that a register of brownfield sites, in accordance with the Housing and Planning Bill 2015, will assist in bringing forward brownfield development. We also believe that in order to lessen the pressure on greenfield sites developers be encouraged to build on brownfield first.
Question 8. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of small sites for housing? If not, why not? How could the change impact on the calculation of the local planning authorities’ five-year land supply?
The Council supports the development of small sustainable sites immediately adjacent to settlement boundaries so long as it is clearly understood that development on the Green Belt is not considered sustainable development (NPPF para 14 and footnote 9.) Small sites have the merit that they are likely to be developed by small builders or as self-build, thus boosting the local economy. They are also likely to be built more quickly unlike large scale developments in Central Bedfordshire that proceed at a glacial pace.
Question 9. Do you agree with the Government proposal to define a small site as a site of less than 10 units? If not, what other definition do you consider is appropriate, and why?
The Council does agree.
Question 10. Do you consider that national planning policy should set out that local planning authorities should put in place a specific positive local policy for assessing applications for development on small sites not allocated in the Local Plan?
The vast majority of Local Plans already include a criteria based policy on small sites; we do not see that it is necessary to put a requirement to do so in National Planning Policy. The motivation of the National Planning Policy Framework was to make planning policy more concise. It is important that the criteria applied respect other policies in the Local Plan, such as Green Belt policy. Just because a site is small, it is no reason to allow development in the absence of very special circumstances.
Question 11. We would welcome your views on how best to implement the housing delivery test, and in particular:
- What do you consider should be the baseline against which to monitor delivery of new housing?
The Council considers the concept of the housing delivery test is misconceived and would create a lot of ‘red tape’.
It is wrong to see the failure to deliver development on land for which planning permission has been granted as the fault of the Local Planning Authority. It is the responsibility of developers promptly to implement the developments for which they have permission. The problem is financial. It is not in the developers’ interest to develop quickly if that would reduce the profit they can make and the undeveloped land is appreciating and increasing the assets on their balance sheet. Granting more planning permissions will not solve the problem. Nor will reducing the time within which a start must be made; as currently a token amount of ground work is sufficient to meet these conditions. The developers need to be motivated to deliver their developments quickly.
The Council would like council tax to be payable from three years after the grant of planning permission, whether the development has been completed or not. There is also the problem of land-banking by companies who are not developers and yet own considerable areas of land to sell on to developers in due course. This is causing development to stagnate as the asset is more valuable in their balance sheet.
- What should constitute significant under delivery and over what time period?
No further comment.
- What steps do you think should be taken in response to significant under delivery?
No further comment.
- How do you see this approach working when the housing policies in the Local Plan are out of date?
No further comment.
Question 12. What would be the impact of a housing delivery test on development activity?
Question 13. What evidence would you suggest could be used to justify retention of land for commercial or similar use? Should there be a fixed time limit on land retention for commercial use?
Any evidence needs to address the likelihood of the land being used commercially. The Council considers there should be a time limit on the retention of commercially designated land, but with some potential flexibility. It would not be sensible to remove the commercial designation at the time limit if serious negotiations for its commercial use were under way.
Question 14. Do you consider that the starter homes exception site policy should be extended to unviable or underused retail, leisure and non-residential institutional brownfield land?
The Council does agree.
Question 15. Do you support the proposal to strengthen the starter homes exception site policy?
Question 16. Should starter homes form a significant element of any housing component within mixed use developments and converted unlet commercial units?
The Council does agree.
Question 17. Should rural exception sites be used to deliver starter homes in rural areas? If so, should local planning authorities have the flexibility to require local connection test?
The Council does not agree with the idea of starter homes on exception sites in the Green Belt for the reasons set out in its answer to Question 1. An essential feature of rural exception sites, as defined in the National Planning Policy Framework, is that affordable housing provided on these sites is affordable in perpetuity. If the present proposal were to be adopted, after five years the rural settlement with an exception site would be back to square one. There would be pressure for another generation of starter homes and Green Belt boundaries will be steadily eroded, contrary to the main purpose of Green Belt policy.
Question 18. Are there any other policy approaches to delivering starter homes in rural areas that you would support?
Question 19. Should local communities have the opportunity to allocate sites for small scale starter home developments in their Green Belt through neighbourhood plans?
The Council does not agree with the idea of starter homes in the Green Belt being provided for in neighbourhood plans for the reasons set out in its answer to Questions 1 and 17. Starter homes are not the same as affordable housing.
If starter homes, which after all are market housing, are allowed in the Green Belt, without some other very special circumstances, developers will see this as the thin edge of the wedge. They will bring forward more market housing in the Green Belt which will be more difficult to refuse. Building a starter home in the green belt, because of the price of the land, will not be affordable to first time buyers within the criteria set out by the government. Starter homes would be an excuse for developers to insist on a quid pro quo of several 6 bed mansions in order to compensate for the starter home.
Question 20. Should planning policy be amended to allow redevelopment of brownfield sites for starter homes through a more flexible approach to assessing the impact on openness?
The Council opposes this proposal. It is essentially to insert ‘substantially’ before ‘greater impact’ in the last bullet point in para 89 of the NPPF for starter homes developments. It is difficult to judge what effect this would have; what is ‘substantial’? However, it seems that it must either involve a serious loss of Green Belt openness or else have little effect on the delivery of starter homes.