We already knew we were going to do lots of thinking and talking about land supply this year. The new Annual Position Statement and second round of the Housing Delivery Test / Action Plan process. This has all been given a big plot twist with CVD19 and many sites being stopped in their tracks.
Lichfields have a useful blog post setting out the issues – and proposes two types of response – the “hawks” or “doves”. I think (reading between the lines slightly) that Mathew’s view is that inspectors should be hawkish unless, by virtue of their Action Plans, councils can demonstrate they have done everything in their power to boost development.
They are correct to raise land supply as an important issue. It doesn’t have the immediacy of virtual planning committees but it is urgent in its own way. There are already many people in councils concerned about how inappropriate development might be allowed at present, and what might happen with their plan. Their “ask” of MHCLG is that the requirement of a demonstrable 5 year land supply be set aside for now.
This post is my attempt to set out my own thoughts – and I think there is a simpler solution that just requires a bit of common sense from inspectors.
It is not complicated but land supply turns on three related concepts – a requirement, the supply and deliverability. And land supply matters, both because it is an important part of the appeals process but also a core component in the examination of local plans.
- appeals matter because they provide a testing ground for whether an LPA is doing the job right (plus they are expensive)
- local plans matter because they allocate the land that should mean appeals become less necessary (they are expensive too)
We care about it so much because previously, in some places, not enough land was identified and some of it was perennially listed but never developed because it was not suitable. So, LPAs were given a clear steer – make enough land available to provide a medium-term pipeline and do the work to prove its the right sort in the right place.
Laying this out simply, if your plan says you need to deliver 100 homes per year then you should be able to show a list of sites with capacity for 500 (and a few more for luck) along with clear evidence that they are going to happen. Shelly and I talked this over in our fireside chat about the deliverability cribsheet recently.
So, baked into the approach is the assumption that more land = more houses. But that is not true at the moment. More land will not lead to more houses. Because no one is delivering at the moment. The crash stop means that everyone’s previous predictions about rates of delivery (and the housing market more generally) are wrong. Completely totally wrong.
Against our simple example of 500 sites there can be no list of sites long enough because none of them pass the “deliverable” test. Staff are furloughed, delivery pipelines ground to a halt.
Perhaps we should agree that this concept doesn’t apply at present, be a “dove” and set aside the NPPF requirement (via a WMS). I think there might be a simpler approach, that would simply require inspectors use a bit of common sense.
The Wokingham appeal decision has got some people excited because in it an inspector tries to guess what the impact of the lock down will be. It’s worth a read, even if you don’t usually read appeal decisions. I predict normal people will be bemused to see that a big chunk of it reads like a narrative of someone going through a spreadsheet with a red pen.
I think a better approach (and a very English one) to this situation is to ignore it. Don’t try to second-guess it, don’t try to amend the NPPF on the hoof. Simply put the job of an inspector is to go the spirit of the requirement – has this LPA provided enough land of the right sort ready for the world to deliver it when things return to normal ? ie the “deliverability” angle should be taken to mean “deliverable in normal times” not, as the Wokingham inspector tried to opine “deliverable given that we are mid pandemic”.
Personal views, obvs.