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

Written evidence from Hallam Land Management Limited (ARSS 57)


The majority of Local Planning Authorities are resistant to new housing development.

Over a period of more than 25 years housing land in the UK has been consistently and seriously underprovided leading to excessive rises in the cost of housing.

Such underprovision can only be made good through the allocation of significant numbers of new sites right across the country.

Many elected representatives at Local level are acutely aware that new housing is unpopular with their constituents.

Local Planning Authorities have consistently over a period of 25 years resisted new development by seeking to reduce housing numbers through RSSs and Structure Plans before that.

Housebuilders require a continuity of supply of new housing land.

They are content to engage in the consultation process but require certainty that at the conclusion of such a process there will be sufficient land in the right places and at the right time. The considerable costs of engaging in the planning process for developers and housebuilders can only be justified if there are tangible results in the form of new planning permissions of sufficient number and quality in the appropriate locations.

Incentivising Local Planning Authorities with enhanced grant fundong is very unlikely to override their general hostility to new residential development

Whilst the funds will be gladly accepted by the Local Planning Authorities where development is proposed it is unlikely to in itself persuade the Authorities that such development is acceptable on a scale sufficient to make an impression on the shortage of housing land.

Local Planning Authorities do not have a good track record of working together to secure additional allocations of housing land and there is nothing to suggest that this will change simply because the Government are asking them to work together in the future.

Hallam Land Management Limited is one of this country's leading strategic land development companies. It currently manages about 8,200 acres of land on 120 sites across the whole of the UK.

The company has been active for over 20 years and during that time has brought forward many sites mainly for housing and but also for other forms of development, such as retailing, employment and renewables.

We are currently involved in the promotion of around 20 sites of more than 1000 dwellings; some on our own account others in collaboration with other developers including most of the major national housebuilders.

Many of our sites are long term and we frequently are promoting sites over a 10 year or more period. We are not housebuilders but having obtained planning permission for our sites we then sell our land onto the housebuilders, sometimes having installed infrastructure.

We have been involved in most of the RSS and have participated in many of the RSS EIPs. We have also participated in many LDFs and are involved directly in many of these EIPs also. We have also participated in many Structure Plan and Local Plan Inquiries in the earlier planning system.

Most of our employees are town planners and all are very familiar with the planning system. I am a chartered town planner with over 35 years experience and have served on the National Council of the Royal Town Planning and on the National Planning Committee of the House Builders Federation.

This consultation is concerned with four main issues and I will take each of these in turn.

1.  The implications of the abolition of regional house building targets for levels of housing development

Most Local Planning Authorities are generally resistant to new housing development. New housing development is normally disliked intensely by existing communities. Those communities put their elected representatives under a great deal of pressure to resist such new development and new members are often elected from an anti-development platform. New residential development is possibly the most contentious matter affecting local politics in many areas of the country.

Over a period of time dating back to 1974 with the introduction of the Structure and Local Plan system, Local Planning Authorities have by and large had the allocation of housing numbers imposed on them by a more strategic higher authority, which has ensured with relative degrees of success that at least a proportion of the land required for new housing has been allocated. Passing over that entire responsibility to the local planning authority is likely to lead to an overall reduction in the provision of new land.

In most of the RSS EIPs, in which we have been involved, many local authorities have argued vehemently for a reduction in housing allocation numbers. This is no coincidence and simply reflects the political will of those LPAs to reduce the amount of development. Virtually, all responsible representatives of the development industry have long argued that the initial figures put forward in the RSSs were too low let alone the reduced figures argued for by the majority of LPAs

It is, to our mind, inconceivable that these same LPAs will now take a more responsible view with regard to the allocation of land for housing.

When the Local Government Act 2003 was introduced creating the current RSS/LDF system the Government said that it intended all LDFs to be confirmed before 2007. The reality is that by the time of the election in May 2010, there were hardly any fully effective LDFs in place. The reason for this is that there was simply no strong will on behalf of the LPAs concerned to actually get on with the process. For many authorities, stalling the production of the LDFs has been an effective way of stalling new housing developments.

The RSSs provided at least some form of target, which the LPAs were required to meet. Left to their own devices we fear that housebuilding targets will be drastically reduced from a total that was in the first place critically low.

The development business is a very complex and time-consuming process. The volume of work, which is required to be produced in support of even quite modest planning applications can take between six months and a year to prepare and involving amongst other things exhibitions and public consultations exercise. All of this work can cost significant sums of money, which together with the now substantial planning application fees can equate to a substantial investment of time and money. Such an investment decision is not taken lightly, by housebuilders or developers and it is reasonable to expect a degree of consistency in decision-making. Regrettably a more localist approach to decision making is more likely to lead to more uncertainty and hence risk for developers. Frequently planning applications can take unto 12 months to determine and may easily span a change of political control within any particular council. A localist approach may legitimise a different planning opinion from the planning authority at the conclusion of a planning application to that that would have been available at the start of the process. Whilst this could be the case under the previous and indeed any regime, under the presently proposed regime it is a far more likely outcome and is in itself likely to put off developers from making applications on anything other than those sites which have an almost certain outcome. All of which is likely to lead to fewer developments coming forward. We accept that planning is at the heart of a democratic process and that there is always an element of risk but that risk, in a structured RSS LDF system, can be managed and understood, but there is a danger that a locally accountable decision based system will be open to frequent and unsubstantiated change.

The housebuilding industry requires a minimum amount of land in the appropriate locations to be able to provide the appropriate number of houses for the population of the country. It requires a reasonable amount of certainty that the sites that it needs to bring forward are actually going to be approved at the end of the process. Over a period of 25 years that situation has become progressively less certain and the volume of available land has become much reduced. It is unfortunate but in our view the new localism approach to planning is almost certainly likely to increase delay uncertainty and cost of bring forward even fewer sites than previously and this ultimately will be at the expense of the house buying public, or more properly at the expense of those fortunate enough to be able to buy a house because for the great majority of those people wanting to buy a house the planning system will actually prevent sufficient houses being made available.

It should be noted that there is a possibility that just the reverse of what the Government intends with its policies will actually happen. That is to say that instead of Local Planning Authorities taking more responsibility for decision making on planning matters, they will actually make less decisions or give more refusals which will lead to appeals against refusals or non determination which will inevitably lead to individual Planning Inspectors or indeed the Secretary of State himself actually having to make more of the decisions. So, instead of decisions being taken at a local level many will in fact be taken by external agencies or even by the Government itself.

2.  The likely effectiveness of the Governments plan to incentivise local communities to accept new housing development and the nature and level of the incentives, which will need to be put in place to ensure an adequate long-term supply of housing

Regrettably, for the reasons I outline in para one, above, incentives are not likely to work. If politicians are elected from a "no development" platform, then financial inducements are unlikely to have much material effect. If those politicians feel that they are likely to be voted out of office if they are seen to be encouraging development then no amount of financial inducement is likely to make them change their mind. Nor indeed is it likely to change the mind of the electorate who, generally, do not want the development. Until the electorate decide that new development is necessary and desirable, their elected representatives will take the same view. Clearly, in the past, Local Authorities have been keen to take advantage of Section 106 and other contributions but only where they have concluded that development is, in any event, unavoidable and they have taken the unsurprising view that they should take whatever financial contributions they can from the development, but it is not these contributions which have led the authorities to accept the development in the first place. The development has come because of the imposition of targets from RSS or elsewhere and not from the cash that comes with the development. In other words the local communities see the cash as compensation for the development rather than a justification of it. Furthermore what can be the logic of giving more cash to local authorities simply to grant planning permissions when there may not be any actual specific requirement for that cash? Can it be a good use of public money to proffer cash to those councils for giving planning permissions when they should in any event be granting the permissions without the need for incentives?

We are seeing a reverse incentivisation at the present time whereby Local Authorities are presently looking to hold back planning permissions because there is an awareness of the incentives which they think are to be made available shortly but the details are unclear and so there is a temptation to wait to ensure that councils are not missing out on windfall benefits. This is quite understandable from their point of view, but in the short term at least, is actually having the reverse effect from what is intended by the introduction of the incentives and so it is important to finalise these matters as soon as practicable.

3.  The Committee understands that the government intends to announce further details of its plans for incentives shortly and would welcome comments on the adequacy and appropriateness of those incentives when the details are available

It is difficult to comment on the adequacy and appropriateness of the incentives without knowing the details of those incentives. However, as noted above the scale of the incentives is unlikely ever to be sufficient to bring about the responsible decision making that the government seeks.

Historically, the majority of Local Planning Authorities have always sought to restrict the amount of growth in its own administrative area. There have been notable exceptions but normally development has occurred only where the Local Authority concerned believes there to be a real threat of losing appeals.

The last Government had spent much of its time, especially in its early years, restricting development particularly on Greenfield sites (because of the unpopularity of such development). More latterly, the Government did seem to have accepted the argument that more land was required for housing and many appeals have been allowed over the last two years on the basis of the lack of a five year land supply. Crucially, however, the five year land supply has been measured against the RSS targets. Without the RSS targets there is a real danger that Local Planning Authorities will simply distort the five year land supply argument in their favour.

Put simply, the carrot (contributions and incentives) as opposed to the stick (RSS targets and lost appeals) approach does not work with housing land because there is no carrot sufficient for local politicians to support housing growth when to do so is likely to result in a lost seat at the next election. Already we are seeing examples of up to 40% reductions in targets from RSS figures in authorities such as for example Rotherham and Leeds and this is being repeated in Local Authorities across the country.

4.  The arrangements which should be put in place to ensure appropriate cooperation between local planning authorities on matters formerly covered by regional spatial strategies

History shows that Local Planning Authorities rarely work well or cooperate together effectively. These arrangements are often at their worst when one authority is to accommodate what it sees as the growth requirements of a neighbouring authority although this is precisely where such cooperation is most needed. At best such arrangements can lead to significant delay and at worst they can be totally counterproductive insofar as policy making is concerned. Without some higher authority bringing together the respective parties it is likely that in many if not the majority of cases the LPAs, whilst possibly seeming to acquiesce to the notion of working together collaboratively are actually simply not able to come to a consensus view. These types of arrangements will almost inevitably be difficult and particularly so if different Local Authorities are under different political control. This difficulty will be exacerbated if councils change political control during the process, as will almost certainly be the case with a different and shorter political cycle to National Government.

In the RSS arrangements, Local Planning Authorities had to become involved to have influence and the process would simply leave them behind if they were not constructively involved. Collaborative working between authorities under the presently proposed arrangements could become mired in disagreement and delay enabling LPAs to avoid making painful political decisions on housing allocations.

It is essential therefore that any mechanism, which is put in place to enable cooperative working between authorities, incorporates some form of punitive action against LPAs who do not cooperate.


Most LPAs, and particularly those in the parts of the country where there is most pressure for development, are driven by the desire to resist that development pressure. This desire stems from the general will of the local electorate to minimise any new development in what is often perceived by the general public as an over developed country. Frequently that public antipathy to new development hides under the banner of inadequate infrastructure and indeed this is in part the reason for the dislike of the new development but the reality is more fundamental opposition to the development in the first place. Therefore the government's aim to sweeten the pill through financial incentives will in fact be no more than sweetening the pill and will not of itself persuade many LPAs to take the medicine, in the first place. Certainly if they have to have the new development the LPAs will be pleased to receive money for new infrastructure, but then this would be no different from the planning arrangements which are already in place with the S106 mechanisms. But under a regime whereby the LPAs decide for themselves whether they need the new development, the answer in the majority of cases is likely to be a resounding "No thanks" and no amount of financial inducements is likely to change that.

The country has suffered from an under provision of land for new housing for 25 years. There has been little to prevent LPAs from allocating such land other than their own inclinations, but even when they have been under an obligation through housing number allocations being imposed from above they have more often than not chosen to under allocate. We would be very pleased if the Governments new arrangements lead to a significant increase in housing allocations but we regret to say that we believe that the reverse is likely to happen as over the next few years there will be even less allocations than has been the case recently and the Government will be obliged to review the position and bring in the sort of targets that the last Government themselves ultimately had to introduce.

September 2010

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