There’s a lot of noise around 5YHLS at the moment. The Government’s consultation Planning for the Future proposes to remove the need to demonstrate a 5YHLS as well as an alternative option to retain 5YHLS if the calculation of how much land needed to meet development needs was left to local decision.
The requirement to demonstrate a 5YHLS has been long standing, it’s certainly been in place for as long as I’ve been in planning, so its potential loss appears on the face of it to be a pretty radical change.
The Planning for the Future consultation seeks to retain the presumption sanction, not by virtue of 5YHLS but via the Housing Delivery Test (HDT) measurement result. My view is that 5YHLS has always been a carrot and stick scenario; the carrot is the benefit of showing the plan is being delivered as anticipated and having the ability to defend against unsuitable speculative development and the stick is the loss of control via application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development. Is the carrot worth it, yes definitely and now the stick moves to the HDT measurement.
There is some legitimate criticism that for HDT there is a time lag in picking up undelivery of housing in an area and isn’t as immediate in its application of the presumption if things are starting to go wrong for a council. Whilst I concede some of that criticism I don’t believe this is outweighed by the benefits of using HDT; it’s based on real world delivery – the actual number of net housing actually built and completed. There is no playing about with the spreadsheet to manipulate the numbers, you can’t find an extra block of flats that’s been built down the back of the sofa. HDT is a truer reflection of how the housing market and development industry is operating in that area; unlike 5YHLS which has become its own industry of number manipulation and the obsession with proving there is or isn’t a magic 5yr number. I should know, as a land supply specialist for many years it has become a micro industry for consultants, barristers and planners like me spending hour upon hour in Local Plan examinations and S78 appeals debating, or flat out arguing, as to the method of calculation, the variables and the nitty gritty of each sites contribution – all with the aim of showing or not whether a number added up to 5. That isn’t what land supply should be about and it is this micro industry with its endless arguing that I believe Planning for the Future is seeking to do away with rather than removing the fundamental basic that planners should think about how and when housing comes forward.
There are plenty of industry commentators out there either ready to mourn 5YHLS loss or jump for joy; but let’s not be too hastey. I don’t believe the proposal to remove the requirement to demonstrate is all that radical – it simply proposes to remove the ‘test’ element rather than the need to think about what is happening with land supply. Planners and councils should be thinking about land supply as part of the day to day function of their planning services and the monitoring feedback loop on whether their plan is actually being delivered. How can you tell if sufficient sites are coming forward to meet the development requirements and HDT measurement if you aren’t working out your supply pipeline? A fundamental principle of plan making is the need of a forward looking land supply to ensure the housing requirements set out in your plan can be met. Whilst in the future it might not be a 5yr period being looked at and instead might be 2yr, 3yr or even 10yr period the principle of ensuring development needs are being met and that infrastructure interlinked with sites is coming forward in tandem. Forecasting of an areas performance against its HDT for future years will become more important as council’s will need to accurately predict if or when the presumption would be applied and this is already seen as a crucial step in the production of a HDT Action Plan. During the last few months of my secondment with the Planning Advisory Service we have produced a guide on how to do an effective HDT Action Plan covering the importance of knowing what the future results could be based on predicted supply or changes to the requirement e.g. by adopting a plan. Have look here Housing Delivery Test – Preparing Effective Action Plans
So is the proposed removal of the need to demonstrate a 5YLS a radical change – no I don’t think so, to my mind it’s keeping the carrot and moving the stick.