Targeting the countryside
New research commissioned by CPRE shows that a
loophole in national planning guidance is allowing
developers to bypass local democracy and gain planning
permission for large housing developments in the countryside.
The research was undertaken to address the impact of the
National Planning Policy Framework’s (NPPF) emphasis on the need
to ‘significantly boost housing supply.’ The NPPF puts greenfield
sites at risk by forcing local authorities to demonstrate that they
can meet market demand for the next five years. However, local
authorities can only make land available for housing; they rely on
private developers to actually build the homes at the required rate.
If developers fail to deliver enough homes, it is the local authorities
who are required to address the shortfall by allocating even more
land for housing – often on less sustainable, but more profitable,
Since the NPPF was implemented only 17.6% of authorities have
had their local plan approved by the Government. Without a plan
in place, local authority decisions to reject housing on greenfield
sites can be overturned by a Government Inspector, undermining
local decision making. A local plan can also be disregarded if it
doesn’t show ‘a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to
provide five years’ worth of housing.’ The consequences are proving
catastrophic for the countryside; in the past two years 26,840
houses on greenfield sites have been given planning permission
at appeal when the local authority was not found to have enough
housing land supply to meet requirements.
Our new research
The results of our research drew on an analysis of 309 planning
appeal decisions for residential applications on greenfield land,
and confirmed that NPPF policies are resulting in a large number
of appeals overturning local decisions. If the application is for a
major housing development, and the local planning authority does
not have a five year land supply, the success rate at appeal is 72%
(compared with 35% overall). The research also found that even
where the local planning authority did have a five year supply, one
in six of the appeals were still approved.
It is clear that the NPPF is making the five year land supply the
major factor in deciding planning applications. Yet the research
found that current policy – and a lack of detailed guidance – is
making it very difficult for local planning authorities to prove that
they have a five year supply. There are a number of contributing
reasons for this. An inflexible focus on short-term housing targets
makes it difficult for councils to plan effectively for large sites
which may have long lead-in times, while current policy requires
that ‘under delivery’ of housing in the past must be accommodated
in the next five years. In many cases, past ‘under delivery’ was a
result of regional planning policies – agreed by local authorities and approved by Government – quite correctly sought to direct
new housing away from greenfield land and towards brownfield sites in urban areas. Pressure from five year supply requirements means greenfield land is increasingly being earmarked for housing, while viable, deliverable and sustainable sites with local support are overlooked. Perversely, this situation is often exacerbated as councils who have struggled to meet housing targets are required by the NPPF to increase their five year supply by 20%, as a ‘buffer’ to ‘ensure choice and competition in the market for land.’ The five year supply numbers are often based on housing requirements which are calculated with very little guidance, but which place an emphasis on meeting housing demand regardless of the consequences.
Our research found that the level of five year
supply is regularly being decided, ad hoc, during
planning appeals by Government Planning
Inspectors, rather than through the more
considered and democratically accountable local
planning process. This ‘moving of the goalposts’
has created huge uncertainty over the reliability
of housing requirements for local planning
authorities, communities and developers..
Planning appeal case studies
A typical example was an appeal for 154 dwellings on a greenfield site outside the development boundary of Calne in Wiltshire; the appeal was allowed when the Inspector concluded that significant weight must be given to the NPPF’s presumption in favour of sustainable development and its objective to considerably boost the supply of housing.
This case reflects the vast majority of appeal decisions that were analysed, in which the requirement for a five year housing supply and the need to find developable sites is prevailing over policies restricting development on open countryside or existing greenfield sites.
Although our research highlights that planning appeals are three times as likely to be decided in the developers favour, we did find notable exceptions where appeals were rejected. These were often because environmental policies were given proper weight. An application for 53 homes in Sutton-in-Craven, North Yorkshire was dismissed at appeal after the Inspector cited the NPPF in concluding that the impacts of the development on the character and identity of the area outweighed the benefits of the new housing.
The Secretary of State refused permission for 165 dwellings in Thundersley, Essex against the Inspector’s recommendations, because it would result in the loss of Green Belt and undermine national Green Belt policy. He also dismissed an appeal for 1,420 homes on greenfield land separating two settlements in north west Leicestershire, agreeing with the Inspector’s conclusions that the adverse impacts on the landscape and air quality, and the loss of high quality agricultural land, outweighed the benefits of the housing.
Unfortunately, these successful outcomes represent a small minority of the cases. They indicate, however, that appropriate outcomes from planning decisions are possible without a radical overhaul of the current system. Insteadwe are suggesting that relatively small changes to current policy and guidance would ensure that environmental sustainability carries the appropriate level of importance in all planning decisions.
To address the issues identified in the research,
CPRE is calling on the Government to make a
number of important policy changes which can be
achieved through simple amendments to the NPPF.
We would like to see paragraph 49 altered so that
there is not an automatic presumption in favour
of granting planning permission where the local
authority is unable to demonstrate a five year land
supply. It should also be made clear in these cases
that developers should still be expected to meet
local policy objectives, such as using brownfield
sites before greenfield.
The NPPF requirement that local planning
authorities must allocate an additional
20% ‘buffer’ of ‘deliverable’ housing sites
is exacerbating already unrealistic housing
requirements and should be suspended
immediately. Paragraph 14 should be amended
so that meeting housing demand does not have
greater weight than environmental and social
sustainability in plan making and decision taking.
The NPPF must also allow for a flexible approach to
five year housing supply in local authorities that
can demonstrate they are promoting large scale,
sustainable developments which will meet housing
need in the longer term. Crucially, it must be
amended to ensure that where an up to date Local
or Neighbourhood Plan is in place, development
of inappropriate and unallocated sites will not be
permitted at appeal.
Find out more: Read our full recommendations
and the original research commissioned from
respected consultants Parsons Brinckerhoff
at cpre.org.uk/housingsupply and see CPRE
Lancashire’s new report on the impact of the five
year housing land supply rule on their county at
Editor: Oliver Hilliam