Written evidence from Harborough District
Council (ARSS 59)|
The fundamental problem is that of making a decision
to abolish a core component of the Development Plan at a stroke
with no replacement policy framework in place, either of a permanent,
well thought out and endorsed nature or even of a transitional
nature (ie a credible "stop gap").
Abolition of the RSS in this way takes out the "certainty"
that the adoption of a regional strategy provides to both developers
(the partnership of much needed investors and landowners) and
the wider "stakeholder" community. Developers have invested
both time and resources in the regional planning process in promoting
their proposals and where regional strategies have endorsed those
proposals, in the setting out of "enabling" policies,
developers have a "right" (subject to matters of detail)
to expect a degree of certainty about those proposals being successfully
delivered through the remaining planning process (ie via the LDF
and/or straight through to planning application). Removal of that
"certainty" through the revocation decision is not surprisingly
now subject of a "test" case Judicial Review (ref Cala
Homes, Winchester which is now being supported by the House Builders
Federation). The outcome of this is keenly awaited.
The LDF's that the planning authorities are charged
with delivering now have to set out housing needs and delivery
targets, to be delivered purely within their administrative areas.
These housing "targets" have to be tested, and will
almost invariably be challenged by local communities and developers
alike. This is a huge step change from having to determine "merely"
the distribution of a regionally set and evidenced housing target.
The additional work required to undertake a robust assessment
of all the relevant demographic evidence from which the local
housing need can be drawn, simply across the LPA administrative
area, will be difficult, expensive and unlikely to be sound in
relation to the strategic overall housing market area context.
It will now require additional, work to be commissioned to provide
supporting evidence that has not been anticipated and therefore
budgeted for, and will involve additional work in managing each
stage in the LDF process to adoption. It will, for example, almost
certainly lengthen the LDF final examination process and therefore
overall cost of LDF delivery.
There is a danger that different planning authorities
in the same Housing Market Area (HMA) take a different approach
to the assessment of housing need and its apportionment within
their respective administrative areas. The absence of a consistent
approach will increase the confusion of how actual local housing
needs across the HMA are being met.
In Leicestershire, some local planning authorities
have made more headway with their LDF work than others. Those
"ahead of the game" have had their RSS regional housing
targets endorsed through the government office assessment of "soundness",
the public examination process followed by binding Planning Inspectors
reports. Other LPAs have not got that far. Those LPAs are now
picking up the pieces arising from the RSS revocation and are
re-assessing their housing targets. We understand that some are
intending to stay with the RSS housing figure because they feel
it is "right" for their plan area whilst others are
considering proposing a lower housing figure, (especially where
they were unhappy with the outcome of the RSS process). Some of
the LPAs who feel a lower figure is right for them may well wish
to contest the housing figures being taken forward by neighbouring
authorities where they feel those authorities should be taking
a greater share of development to meet the needs of the HMA as
a whole, including even those that have decided to stay with the
RRS target. There is a prospect of those authorities challenging
the approach of other adjacent LPAs through the formal Examination
process. This can only happen to those LPAs that have yet to take
their LDFs to formal Examination (ie those authorities having
adopted, or now in a position to adopt their LDFs will be "immune"
from challenge). It is a recipe for potential chaos and wasteful
public expense in arbitrating what will be essentially a "re-run"
of what took place through the RSS examination process when each
districts share of the HMAs housing requirement was resolved.
It is also evident that the combination of the revocation
decision and the perceived ethos of "localism" is stimulating
local political confidence into making decisions to resist unpopular
development proposals, especially housing proposals, even in the
face of evidence to suggest that the RSS related five year housing
supply is lacking in those areas. The danger is of a hiatus in
supply arising from the revocation when the housing market is
already so troubled, compounding the increasing lack of accessibility
to housing occurring within our communities. One direct aspect
of this is that local authorities will have to "pick up the
tab" in terms of its homelessness prevention endeavours,
and where that fails, costly provision for the homeless where
there are statutory obligations to make adequate provisions irrespective
of budgetary constraints.
Where LPAs have taken their LDFs through formal Examination
and received binding Inspectors reports there are RSS policy tools
that have become embedded in those LDF's (eg the housing targets
specified for the Principal Urban Area (PUA) of Leicester set
out in the RSS East Midlands strategy for the Leicestershire Sub-region).
LPAs taking their LDFs forward after RSS revocation have no obligation
to adhere to such policies in their LDFs but must respect, and
take account of, how those policies are being delivered by adjacent
LPAs who have taken them forward. The consistent application of
other former RSS polices such as Green Wedge policy are also affected
in this way.
Other RSS polices are now lost and this is creating
a serious policy vacuumeg strategic policy guidance on
renewable energy, flooding, minerals and waste. The abandoned
partial review of RSS East Midlands on such matters is also significant.
For example, there are spatial concentrations of development proposals
for wind farms both within Harborough District and in adjacent
LPAs in the M1/A14 corridor. Harborough District Council wanted
the review of regional planning policy to address the need for
policy guidance on the cumulative impact, sub-regionally, of these
proposals recognising the disproportionate contribution to regional
renewable energy targets from these developments in one small
area of the Region. The opportunity for a coherent policy approach
to this issue now appears lost.
Arrangements clearly need to be put in place to ensure
appropriate co-operation, on a sub-regional basis, between LPAs
on such matters previously covered by the RSS as waste, minerals,
flooding etc. It is suggested that the minimum spatial area should
be the HMA sub-region but that arrangements to also consider cross
boundary issues will also be required. The proposed Local Enterprise
Partnerships, as suggested, may be dressed up to have the scope
to fulfil some form of a strategic planning policy function but
arrangements to deliver on this, not surprisingly, appear distinctly
lacking in the submissions being made.
The LEP proposal as submitted for the Leicestershire
area only allows for cooperation and collaboration as currently
exists through a partnership based Housing and Planning Infrastructure
Group. This simply comprises representatives from the key stakeholder
organisations (including the Leicester and Leicestershire Local
Planning Authorities, the HCA, and HBF) which reports, via a co-ordination
group, to the sub-regional Leadership Group. There is therefore
absolutely no accountability at LEP level for planning policy
decisions in the proposal as submitted.
The issue of the democratic accountability of the
LEP to deliver a strategic planning policy framework that would
be effective in dealing with former RSS matters would need to
be addressed. To be effective, such a policy framework would also
need Development Plan status, either as 'son of the RSS' or through
some kind of mandatory incorporation of the LEP policies in the
LDF's of those local authorities within the LEP area, or via some
other mechanism to give appropriate "weight" to the
policies as a material planning consideration through the introduction
of new legislation.