Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence from the Residential Landlords Association


(1)Our concerns relate to general principles and housing.

(2)The RLA is extremely supportive of the draft Framework although improvements could be made to drafting.

(3)In particular, more work needs to be done to ensure that local plans become a delivery vehicle to make sure that the principles set out in the Framework are carried into effect.

(4)A cultural change is needed.

(5)The planning system at present is not fit for purpose and is affected by a number of problems.

(6)The planning system has failed to meet housing need and demand.

(7)Because of the housing crisis we must have an increased supply of housing overall and lack of supply and increasing rent levels are not in anyone’s interest.

(8)We need to look at the purpose of the planning system.

(9)The planning system is often driven by nimbyism.

(10)The Framework needs to settle the argument under which the National Policies as set out in the Framework trump localism. There is a national imperative for growth.

(11)When we talk of the community what do we mean anyway?

(12)Generally, we are content with the length of the proposed guidance and agree to the idea of shortening National Planning Policies. Further terms may need to be defined.

(13)Changes need to be made to clarify the role of local planners so that they deliver what is required under the National Planning Framework.

(14)There needs to be a different attitude towards decision making.

(15)Critics of the Plan are wrong and the Government should hold firm in its proposals.

(16)We agree to the proposal for the presumption in favour of sustainable development although feel that there needs to be some more explanation as to what exactly is involved in this concept.

(17)Core Planning Principles need to be adjusted so that precedence is given to brown field sites but there is a recognition of the need to use green field sites (outside the Green Belt).

(18)Accommodation for all sectors of the community should be treated on the following footing. Families should not be favoured and the needs of young single people need to be addressed just as much.

(19)We are concerned about the hostility towards developments comprising housing in multiple occupation. The planning system should not be used as a vehicle for social engineering to decide who can live where.

(20)It should not be the requirement for the owner/occupied or private rented sector to subsidise the social sector to provide affordable housing.

(21)Existing planning statements should be cancelled.

(22)We do not believe that the duty to co-operate suffices for cross border issues.

(23)We believe that the case for change as proposed by the Government is amply made out.

(24)Therefore, the RLA is pleased to support the whole thrust of the proposed Framework but with suggestions for some changes to strengthen what is currently intended.

About the Residential Landlords Association (RLA)

1. The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) is one of the two direct membership national landlords associations operating in England and Wales. We have some 10,000 subscribers representing a membership of around 15,000. Our members own or control over 150000 units of accommodation. Primarily our members are landlords in their own right but a number are managing and letting agents, some of whom are also landlords. Our members operate in all sub-sectors of the Private Rented Sector (PRS). Properties are rented out to families, working people, young professionals, the elderly, students and benefit customers, including single people.

Scope of the RLA Evidence

2. As a representative body for landlords in the PRS our primary focus is on the general approach to and principles which would underpin the proposed Framework and the housing related issues. One of our particular concerns in the Housing context is the issue of houses in multiple occupation and the need to ensure that single people are adequately catered for.

General Overview

3. Generally, the Association is extremely supportive of the draft Framework as it stands. We do, however, believe that the drafting of the Framework needs to further strengthened to ensure that local and neighbourhood plans are in conformity with national policies as adopted in the Framework and that neither these plans nor local decision making is able to frustrate proper implementation of national policies as currently set out in the draft. We consider that there needs to be a complete change of culture as to the approach to planning decisions throughout the planning system.

The State of the Planning System

4. In our view, the planning system is not fit for purpose; it needlessly frustrates necessary development; it shackles economic growth at a time when we face a massive financial crisis; it fails to meet the housing needs and demands of the nation, particularly as the population is expanding; it is afflicted by rampant nimbyism; it is obsessed with detail; it second guesses and tries to control designers; there is byzantine complexity in terms of a plethora of legislation and planning policies; there is in practice a presumption that development is usually a bad thing; it is infected by local politics; there needs to be a sea change in the culture of planning officials; it is costly; and it is over bureaucratic and slow.

5. Furthermore, it has abjectly failed because it has both failed to meet housing need and demand and even when it has permitted development it has allowed housing developments of the wrong kind, eg too many apartments prior to the Credit Crunch and the dreadful concrete monstrosities of the 60s (often built by local planning authorities themselves) a number of which have since had to be either demolished or refurbished at huge expense. Demand for high densities has skewed the type of housing which has been built over the last decade.

The Need for Housing Development

6. We have a looming housing crisis on our hands. The RLA believe that this message has now been heard. We have an increasing population particularly due to immigration from the EU (as recent net migration figures again demonstrate). We have smaller and smaller household sizes with more single people needing accommodation thus fuelling the demand for more units. The supply of affordable housing at public expense is radically reduced because of the current financial crisis. Owner/occupation is falling back particularly due to lack of mortgage funding and significantly due to lack of confidence. The PRS is having to step into the breach. Increasingly, local authorities are looking to the PRS to house those who would in the past live in the social sector. Those who cannot afford to buy, or who choose not to buy as a lifestyle choice, need provision in the PRS.

7. What we currently have, however, is jostling between the different sectors with existing accommodation moving between one and the other. What we need is a significant ongoing increase in the overall housing supply. This is absolutely vital. We need the right accommodation in the right places and it needs to be such that it is affordable by all income groups. All types of occupants need to be accommodated equally whether they are families, single people or the young, students and so on. They need and deserve a decent home.

8. One might expect a landlords organisation to support a situation where we have rising rents and increasing house prices. You would be wrong because this is clearly not in the national interest and is unsustainable for everyone in the long run. The ever increasing prices particularly in the South East and London as well as increasing rent levels help no one and promote discord. They are symptomatic of the shortage of supply. We approach the draft Framework from this perspective. The current situation importantly adversely impacts on labour mobility.

The Function of Planning

9. Perhaps fundamental questions needs to be asked about the planning system. At the moment it seems to be an opportunity for the articulate middle classes to block necessary development and growth by shouting the loudest. With low turnouts at local elections they are perceived to be the people who influence local politicians who, ultimately, play a huge part in the current system. They are looking to the next local elections and not the long term national interest.

10. We also have a major disconnect in the public mind. The nimbies themselves live in houses which stand on former green fields which used to be someone else’s view. They are frequently motivated by is a desire to preserve their own property values and their own way of life and the rest can “go hang”. We appreciate that these are strong sentiments but the Framework must make it abundantly clear, and ensure, that the national imperative in terms of economic growth is met and to ensure that the whole population has decent and sufficient housing which they can afford to buy or rent. These two factors must trump other considerations.

11. It also needs to be recognised that architecture and design and often matters of taste and what may be disapproved of at the time is seen by history to be a triumph. No doubt officiandos of the baroque were horrified by the clean simpler lines of Georgian architecture. Fussy Victorian architecture and the Gothic Revival superseded the Georgian style. Then the Victorian went out of fashion but is now much admired eg St. Pancras Station and Hotel. Even some of the 1960s architecture is now admired! However, admittedly not all. Thus, there is a great danger of the planning system not only being used to try to thwart development altogether but also to inhibit particular developments which may not appeal to current taste but which history may subsequently embrace. Prior to 1947 in this country we manage to achieve a huge world class built heritage. This has emerged prior to the planning system ever being brought into being. Nowadays you achieve success despite the planning system; not because of it.

National Policies - v - Localism

12. In its terms of reference the Committee ask the question whether there is sufficient guidance for those involved “while at the same time giving local communities sufficient power over planning decisions”. Our reading of the draft is that the intention is that these decisions have to be in line with the Framework. We strongly believe that this issue has to be resolved in favour of a national imperative for growth in particular to deal with the issue and housing supply to which we have already referred. The PRS needs new accommodation to meet growing demand and this should not be at the expense of other sectors so there must be an overall increase in provision. The reality is that this is incompatible with the Government’s localism agenda which is fast falling apart, in our view.

13. Power over local decisions for many means the right to stop much needed development, particularly new housing. We regularly encounter ingenious attempts like the latest appearance of Great Crested Newts or bats on sites, or applications for town or village green status. Alongside these there is outright objection to the various supposed planning grounds put forward. A careful reading of the draft does seem to clearly infer that the national imperative has to be carried forward in local or neighbourhood plans but, in our view, this needs to be made more explicit. We return to the conformity issue below.

14. One concern in all of this in any case is what is meant by “community”. We have made the point elsewhere about strong opposition from those who could be termed nimbies. Are they necessarily “the community”. We believe not. Local politicians must take a much broader and mature view uninfluenced by short term considerations

Format of the Guidance

15. The length is about right. The approach to significantly shorten the Framework is very welcome. We very much hope that the existing planning policy statements which are supplanted will be cancelled. There may, however, be scope, as in Wales for the publication subsequently of clarification notes. One issue we are concerned about is that certain important expressions used in the document are not necessarily defined or sufficiently defined. The glossary of terms should be expanded to contain appropriate definitions including in relation to the concept of sustainable development, to which we return later. In the housing field issues definitions such as mixed developments in our view need additional clarification. We have a particular issue over the concept of “a balanced community” which appears commonplace which we look at later in houses in multiple occupation.

Conformity of Local and Neighbourhood Plans with the Framework

16. As indicated above, in our view, this is a key issue for reasons which we have already explained. We believe that paragraph 20 in particular should make it clearer that, as with the Framework itself, the purpose of local (and neighbourhood) plans is to deliver sustainable development, i.e. their purpose should be as a delivery vehicle. We are concerned with the first sentence of paragraph 20 in particular which refers simply to “achieve the objective of sustainable development”. Actual delivery on the ground is the key. Likewise, the emphasis on delivery needs to be set out in paragraph 8 to ensure that the objective growth is achieved and likewise in paragraph 24. Furthermore, in paragraph 48 it should refer to local plans having to achieve delivery; otherwise it would not be sound. Likewise, in respect of neighbourhood plans. Hopefully these matters would be dealt with on the Examination of the plan but if it should be found subsequently for any other reason that an adopted local and neighbourhood plan did not comply with the Framework then there should be a requirement to deal with an application in accordance with the Framework as opposed to the development plan. It is vital that local and neighbourhood plans cannot be used to inhibit development. Where there is a conflict the Framework should take precedence unless there is good reason to the contrary.

Decision Making

17. Our concern, additionally, is that in future there needs to be a change of attitude throughout the planning system so that matters are examined properly according to their merits in order to achieve growth without being interfered with because of local politics. Our members have considerable experience because of frequent local hostility to accommodation of houses in multiple occupation where due to local prejudice local politicians refuse such applications, irrespective of the terms of existing development plans. This is why we highlight the need for a culture change.

Opposition to the Draft Framework

18. Very considerable opposition has been voiced to the proposed Framework by bodies such as the National Trust. In our view the Government must hold firm. We are on the brink of a further economic disaster. The long term trend is the rise of the East. The West is in decline. We have to reinvigorate our economy. We have to provide the housing to meet the needs of the population in particular. We have to make sure that this housing is linked to new employment opportunities. To put the opposition’s case into context it is important to stress that depending on statistics and which area you look at overall no more than around 10% of the land space is urbanised even though this country is one of the most densely populated in the world. Take a trip on a train from Newcastle to Kings Cross and see how rural the journey is. Likewise, go to East Anglia. We are in grave danger if we listen to the arguments of those opposed to the proposed Framework of having marginally improved views but in a much poorer country. Those who want their views will not then have the public services available to them to support them when they need them particularly in an aging population. This is a major challenge and we support the Government’s attempts to deal with it.

Sustainable Development

19. We welcome the presumption in favour of sustainable development in principle, but do have concerns as to whether the concept of sustainability is always understood. This is one of our points about definitions. There is an attempt to define it in general terms in paragraph 9. However, in a report in the Daily Telegraph on 2 September the Planning Minister, Greg Clark, is reported as saying “The presumption in favour of sustainable development means very simply that in writing their plans Councils should ensure that proposals that don’t present problems should be approved promptly”. It is a little worrying that the Minister is having to put this kind of gloss on the expression. This perhaps supports our view that it is not widely understood or necessarily quite as clearly expressed. We therefore feel that either in the glossary or paragraph 9 there is an expansion of the Government’s views on exactly what this means. Paragraph 10 does provide some help.

Core Planning Principles

20. It may be helpful if an additional core planning principle were introduced in paragraph 9 to say that where practicable preference should be given to redeveloping brown field sites as opposed to green field sites. We are concerned, in particular, regarding the fourth bullet point in paragraph 9 which does suggest stepping away from the generally accepted principle that if a site is already developed then, there is effectively a presumption in favour of it being redeveloped. We are therefore concerned about the wording of this bullet point. Likewise, a new core planning principle should be introduced in our view which recognises the need, subject to appropriate safeguards, have to look to develop green field sites in appropriate locations (outside the green belt normally) to meet the demand for housing where there is insufficient appropriate brown field land available.

HMOs/Single/Family Accommodation

21. Moving on to specific housing issues, one of our concerns is the favouritism which has hitherto been expressed in the planning system in relation to families. They must of course be properly catered for but so equally must single people. The needs and demands of all sectors of the community have to be looked at. This is particularly important at a time when households are becoming smaller and more people are living on their own, especially the elderly. Housing market assessments do contain a requirement already to look at all the needs and this needs to be incorporated into the Framework rather than simply a bias to families.

Houses in Multiple Occupation

22. We are particularly concerned about the hostility against developments of houses in multiple occupation exemplified by the introduction of Class C4 of the Use Classes Order (small houses in multiple occupation). This leads on to the so called issue of mixed or balanced communities, expressions which are mentioned in the draft. They are not defined and they should be in our view, if necessary.

23. What we are particularly concerned about is any suggestion that the planning system should be used as a vehicle for social engineering. We have a clear contradiction in terms. A significant number of local planning authorities (at least 30 and mainly in the major built up areas) are setting planning policies even at street level stipulating that no more than 10, 15 or 20% of the properties must be occupied by single people in houses in multiple occupation. It is our strong view that this is not a function of the planning system. Surely, therefore, to achieve this so called but imaginary concept of a balanced community we should also be stipulating that in the leafy suburbs of our towns and cities at least 20% of their residents should be young single people to achieve this supposed balance. There is no attempt so far other than by anti HMO lobbies to define what is a balanced community. This particular expression should not, in our view, be incorporated in the Framework, at all. The planning system is about land use and not in our view people who actually use the land. Whilst restrictions may be justifiable in certain specific situations eg agricultural occupancy conditions, there should not be this blanket use of the planning system to determine who may live where. This is an example where the planning system tries to look at matters in too much detail.

Affordable Housing

24. Again, this may not be within the remit of this enquiry, but we do wish to place on record our concern that the owner/occupier sector or the PRS should be required to underwrite affordable housing. Placing an obligation on developers to provide affordable housing is a “stealth tax”. It is reflected in the prices which are in turn paid by young people in particular struggling to get on the housing ladder. This backdoor subsidy is, in our view, wrong in principle and should cease.

Inter-relationship between the Framework and Other National Statements of Planning Related Policy

25. Our understanding, although it is suggested otherwise elsewhere, is that the existing planning policy statements should by and large be cancelled. As already indicated should certainly be the case in the interests of simplification. We do consider that the Framework does sufficiently integrate national planning policy subject to our reservations about the linkage between the Framework itself and development plans.

Duty to Co-operate

26. In earlier evidence to this Committee in relation to the abolition of regional spatial strategies we have expressed very considerable reservations about their abolition. We supported the continuation of some form of “targeted” approach as a vital vehicle to ensure delivery of sufficient housing provision. If the Framework is implemented as drafted (and hopefully strengthened) it should go a considerable way, hopefully, towards bringing this about, provided the Planning Inspectorate nationally act in such a way as to ensure that this happens (using costs awards as a sanction if need be). Nevertheless, we still have serious reservations as to whether a more nebulous duty to co-operate is sufficient for these purposes. One cannot look at many developments, including larger scale housing developments in isolation. Furthermore, one often has to approach housing on a wider basis than a single local authority, with people prepared to commute longer distances to work

Evidence Base

27. In our view the policies set out are sufficiently evidence based. The grave problems that we currently face cry out for a solution. The defects in the planning system as it stands to which we have already referred are clear and long standing. They get worse all the time. Firm action is needed through the new Framework to alter the whole approach to the planning system in the overriding national interest.

Car Parking

28. Excessive requirements for car parking provision can stop otherwise desirable development. One recent example is a requirement by a local planning authority where a large property was to be split into two semis. Six spaces are needed even though there is ample unrestricted street parking available. As a result on extra dwelling is lost.


29. The RLA is pleased to support the whole thrust of the proposed Framework and although we have some detailed suggestions for improvements and criticisms we do believe that it is a key element in restoring the economic fortunes of the country without losing control over our environment, contrary to what opponents are saying.

September 2011

Prepared 20th December 2011