Abolition of Regional Spatial Strategies: a planning vacuum? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Written evidence by Crest Nicholson (ARSS 43)


These representations are submitted on behalf of Crest Nicholson Limited (CN). CN are a leading UK house builder with a recognised track record of developing sustainable mixed use housing schemes along with the regeneration of many deprived areas. Of particular note is the award winning redevelopment of Ingress Park in Kent and the regeneration of the Park Central estate in Birmingham.

CN has direct experience of the effect of the Government's policy on housebuilding and in particular the abolition of regional strategies and housing targets and make these representations in order to inform the Inquiry.

CN are willing to provide further details of the evidence provided in this short submission and give oral evidence at the Inquiry.


The abolition of the regional strategies and housing targets are already having a profound negative effect on the house building industry. It is CN's view that this will continue and will result in a reduction in the number of dwellings constructed and further exacerbate the chronic shortage of good quality housing.

The lack of any transitional arrangements following the abolition of the regional strategies and the regionally set housing targets has created a policy vacuum.

The policy vacuum coupled with the lack of any detail on the incentives that are to be offered to LPA's has resulted in the cessation or delay of work on a large number of core strategies particularly in relation to major strategic which have historically provided the largest proportion of new housing numbers.

That policy vacuum has also resulted in the delay in considering planning applications which will result in an increase in the number of applications that will need to be determined through the appeal system.

Any incentives and the Government's proposals for planning obligation and any changes to the community infrastructure levy or the introduction of local tariffs, need to be set out clearly as soon as possible. These will need to be fair and reasonably relate to the development in order to provide a proper incentive to a LPA and local community to permit development.

The duty for LPA's to co-operate with each should have a statutory basis and be enforceable. CN believes that there is a need for cross LPA boundary considerations of housing need and infrastructure requirements and suggest that consideration should be given to using County Councils to encourage, facilitate and police such arrangements based upon nationally set parameters. The data that is already available through the Regional Local Authorities Leaders Boards could form part of this along with a requirement to keep that data up to date with independent testing of its robustness.


2.1  The revocation of regional strategies and the abolition of regional house building targets left a policy vacuum which has had and will have a very significant effect on the level of house building development across the country. This is and will continue to be particularly acute in certain areas such as some cities and larger towns which have constraints upon the land available for development within their administrative boundaries. We have set out below evidence from CN's own experience. The Government's incentives to aid this are, subject to some caveats, welcome and are also dealt with below.

2.2  Whilst we understand the reasoning behind the Government's decision to abolish regional strategies and housing targets, we believe that there is a real need to bring certainty to its plans to provide incentives to LPA's to grant planning permission for housing and mixed use development to in order to avoid further long term problems in the provision of new good quality housing.

2.3  An immediate effect of the letter of 27 May 2010 to all LPA's and the Planning Inspectorate from the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (The Right Honourable Eric Pickles MP) and the subsequent revocation of the regional strategies was the cessation of work on and the proposed cancellation of some core strategies (for example Aylesbury Vale are seeking consent from the Secretary of State to withdraw its core strategy from the examination process). We believe that 58 LPA's have stopped work on or have delayed their core strategies with only three LPA's responding positively (continuing with their core strategy process).

2.4  As far as CN's schemes are concerned many of these have been effected with the following a relatively small representative example.

2.4.1  The DERA Site (Runnymede)—A brownfield site within the Green Belt "allocated" in the revoked South East Plan for 2,500 dwellings. A planning application is yet to be submitted but this site was being promoted by CN through the Runneymede Core Strategy process. The LPA are now looking to review its core strategy housing allocation as a result of the revocation of the South East Plan with a view to proposing a lower housing target and retaining the green belt. The effect is to delay consideration of the proposals pending this review. No timetable has been provided for the resumption of work on the Core Strategy.

2.4.2  Church Farm (800 dwellings) and Fern Hill Heath (200 dwellings) (Worcester, Wychavon and Malvern Hills)—a planning application was being prepared and the sites were being promoted through the planning process. CN have undertaken detailed public consultation. The applications have been delayed as a result of potential changes to the housing targets. Despite the identified need for further housing development in Worcester the city is constrained by its administrative boundary. That housing need can only be met by developing in the adjoining districts of Wychavon and Malvern Hills, however to support that growth infrastructure investment will also be needed in Worcester as well as within those LPA's boundaries. All three LPA's are waiting to see the details of the incentives that are to be offered by the Government before committing to such schemes.

2.4.3  North Whitley (3,000 dwellings—jointly CN, Taylor Wimpey and Bovis) (Winchester)—The Winchester Core Strategy is delayed as a result of the revocation of the South East Plan. This is subject to challenge by way of judicial review by CALA Homes which is to be heard on 22 October 2010. The proposed housing development on the CN site is supported by the LPA and will help in meeting the identified housing and infrastructure needs in the area. However the review of the Core Strategy has delayed any progress by one year.

2.4.4  Oakgrove (up to 1,300 dwellings) (Milton Keynes)—The planning application was due to be heard by Milton Keynes on 15 July 2010 but has been deferred indefinitely.

2.4.5  Mid Sussex (100 dwellings) (Mid Sussex)—Following public consultation an application has been lodged with the LPA . However the LPA have ceased work on their Core strategy as a result of the revocation of the RSSs. A timetable has not been given for any review.

2.4.6  Hicks Gate (1,500 dwellings and employment)(Bristol City and Bath and North East Somerset)—BANES have stopped all work on their Core Strategy and are consulting on alternative housing strategies as a result of the Governments policy and the revocation of the regional strategies. This is a cross boundary site that will be held up despite Bristol City Councils need for housing.

  As a corollary to the Hicks Gate example, at the Examination in Public of Bristol City's Core Strategy on 7 September 2010, the LPA proposed a reduction in the number of dwellings to be provided for the plan period lan from 30,000 to 26,400 dwellings. The reason given was that Government policy allowed the LPA to set its own housing figure.

  The Inspector at the Examination in Public raised a question over the weight that should be given to the proposed reduces housing figure given that the Council's own evidence points to a higher figure. This raises an important point of principle—is planning policy to be evidence based or not? If Bristol City maintains it's position the Vision and objectives in the core strategy will need to explicitly state that the City does not intend to meet it's need. This will send a clear sign to potential investors in one of the Country's major cities.

2.5  The above provides a small example of the delay and uncertainly that is now faced by the housing industry. The policy vacuum that exists will mean that many sites are likely to be decided through the appeal system rather than locally which in turn will result in increased delay and cost both to the development industry and the LPA's. Such costs will effect the viability of schemes and the ability for them to contribute financially towards the local community in addition to the provision of much needed quality new housing.

2.6  Whilst CN recognise that there is not any proposal to return to regional strategies and regionally imposed housing targets, those polices did set a framework against which local policies had to be formulated and provided an opportunity to examine housing requirements over a housing market area rather than the artificial boundaries of a LPA's administrative area.


3.1  As the details of the proposed incentives are yet to be published the submissions below can only be based upon the information available to date and is necessarily general. Two new incentives have been proposed, the New Homes Bonus and a bonus to be paid for permitting commercial development. In addition mention should be made of the current extant system of mitigating the effects of a development through planning obligations and the proposals for either an amended community infrastructure levy (CIL) or local tariff.

3.2  The overriding issue is a requirement for certainty. This will allow LPA's and the local communities to see and consider the benefits that allowing such proposals will bring through the provision of new and enhanced infrastructure in addition to the provision of new housing. The present proposals lack this certainty which along with the policy vacuum mentioned above is (as referred to in the above examples) exacerbates the already dire need for new housing provision.

3.3  New Homes Bonus and commercial development bonus—certainly as far as the New Homes Bonus is concerned (we have not seen any detail on the commercial equivalent), is stated to be fiscally neutral.

3.4  Overall CN can see that providing a financial incentive to LPA's to permit new housing or housing led mixed use development may be effective in increasing the numbers of new dwellings that are given planning permission. It will however be important to ensure that planning decisions are made upon planning grounds and not the prospective receipt of such incentive payments. The later having the potential to damage public confidence in the planning system when poor decisions are made on that basis. Equally it will be important to ensure that there is a recognised benefit from the payment and use of the incentive sums.

3.5  In particular CN believe that the following main points should be considered fully in formulating an effective incentive system:

(i)  How will the bonus or incentive be calculated, will that be at a national or local level or based upon the local council tax levels?

  CN have concerns as to how the level of funds to be paid could provide sufficient incentive to an LPA that has an identifiable need for new hosing within its boundaries but is reluctant to permit such development. The funds paid should be used in a manner that relates to the proposed development. Equally where much of the effects of a proposed development are felt in adjoining administrative areas but the development is predominantly within one area, the resulting funds should be paid to LPA subject to the greater impact rather than the one with the greater number of dwellings within its boundaries (see the examples given above).

(ii)  How will the funds be split between a District and County?

  Whilst it may the District that permits the development, it is the County that is often required to provide much of the infrastructure for example schools, libraries and highways.

(iii)  Should a LPA be allowed the New Home Bonus if the proposal was approved on appeal?

  It is CN's considered view that many LPAs will prefer to allow proposals to be determined by the Inspectorate rather than make decisions that do not enjoy complete local support. By either not determining proposals or refusing otherwise sound schemes the LPAs are introducing a significant cost to all parties. It seems inequitable that they then benefit further from the New Homes Bonus in these circumstances.

3.6  CIL/Local Tariff—whether this is revision of the CIL provisions or a new tariff based system, it will be important that funds received can be shown to be mitigating any potential harm a development may cause along with providing recognisable benefits flowing form the development. Linked with incentives mentioned in paragraphs above these could (particularly if they are ring fenced towards direct mitigation and benefits flowing from the development) help in showing the real benefits of allowing housing development in an area.

3.7  CN's concern is that such payments should not be in conjunction with any planning obligations, taxation and building regulation requirements which make development unviable or incapable of implementation and should be a material consideration in granting planning permission.

3.8  A major issue with all of these incentives is the speed and clarity that the details emerge. At present LPA's cannot judge the likely benefits that those developments will provide above the provision of new housing. Uncertainty results in delay.

3.6  The Government need to ensure that any incentives are properly enforceable and allow for cross boundary issues to be addressed including the provision of funds to a County Council.


4.1  It is important that and cross border issues (whether that is the requirement for new housing, or the effect of new housing are quickly, properly and clearly considered.

4.2  Where there are major housing and infrastructure requirements there is a need for sub regional and at times regional co-operation. It is sometimes not possible to consider the housing need of one LPA area in isolation from adjoining areas (again see the examples above). In addition the effects of major housing, mixed use or commercial proposals will need to be considered at a level that is above a single LPA's remit. The abolition of the regional strategies which dealt with such issues has, as stated above left a policy vacuum that will need to be filled.

4.3  County Council's could use their role to assist or act as facilitators in producing such sub-regional policy.


5.1  This should be made widely and publicly available.

5.2  LPA's should be required to prepare and keep up to date housing need supply data that should also be made widely and freely available. These should (where they are shown to be robust and up to date) be a material consideration in any planning decision and be subject to independent examination to test their robustness based upon objective nationally set parameters.

5.3  There should be penalties if there is a failure to provide that up to date data, maybe linked to the incentives mentioned above or any residue planning delivery grant.

September 2010

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