Targeting the countryside-new research commissioned by CPRE

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,

greenfield sites.

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.

Our recommendations

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 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

( [email protected])


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *