Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by the National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA) (HPB 08)

Summary

1. This submission from the National Infrastructure Planning Association is concerned with clause 107 of the Bill only. It suggests that the limit of 500 houses set out in draft guidance be made more flexible and in addition to commenting on the draft guidance suggests amendments to the clause to:

a. allow development associated with geographically proximate housing to be included in an application (paragraph 13 below),

b. separate the two types of housing (functionally linked and geographically proximate) (paragraph 16); and

c. amend the criteria for acceptance of an application for a nationally significant infrastructure project (paragraph 17).

Introduction

2. The National Infrastructure Planning Association (NIPA) is an organisation of over 500 members created to promote best practice, and bring together all those involved in the planning and authorisation of nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs) in the UK.

3. NIPA does not seek to change policy, and so this submission does not comment on that, but to ensure its effective implementation for the most efficient operation of the Planning Act regime for all concerned, promoters as well as third parties.

4. This submission only deals with clause 107 of the Bill, which amends the Planning Act 2008 to give effect to the pledge at paragraph 9.17 of the 'productivity plan [1] ' to allow 'an element of housing' to be included in applications for nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIPs).

5. Clause 107 amends the Planning Act to allow housing to be included in applications in two cases:

a. where there is a functional link to the NSIP; or

b. where the housing is proposed to be ‘close to’ the NSIP.

6. In neither case is a limit to the number of houses expressed in the Bill itself, nor is ‘close to’ defined, but draft guidance [2] has been published which provides an upper limit of 500 houses and a definition of ‘close to’ as being no more than a mile away from the NSIP. The guidance states that it is ‘very unlikely’ that these maxima will be departed from.

Submission

500-house limit

7. NIPA welcomes the specification of these limits in guidance rather than on the face of the Bill, as this will allow the limits to be changed or removed more easily in the light of their operation and effect on the provision of housing.

8. NIPA understands the benefits for promoters (and local authorities) of a fixed maximum number of houses, namely that they will have certainty of up to the limit set in guidance being able to be included in an application. NSIPs vary considerably in scale, however, and it may be appropriate and proportionate to include a larger number of houses in a larger application. A larger number of houses may also be desired by the local planning authority.

9. To give some examples:

a. a significant road or rail project of several kilometres could unlock thousands of houses. One recent case is the Woodside Link in Bedfordshire, a highway project promoted by the local authority and given consent last year, which was the catalyst for over 5,000 new homes despite only being 3km long;

b. another example could be Crossrail 2 (consenting route yet to be decided), which could open up even greater opportunities. Enabling the housing consequence of such applications to be included in a DCO application would be consistent with the policy objective of integrating growth with infrastructure investment. It could also create opportunities for the enabled development to help fund the delivery of the NSIP;

c. thirdly a project such as Hinkley Point C, which included significant workers’ temporary accommodation (much more than the equivalent of 500 dwellings), presented an opportunity for a legacy of housing that was not able to be taken up and would still not be with such a limit.

10. Removing the limit could reduce the certainty that an application would qualify, though, and therefore if the limit is to be removed there should be a mechanism for establishing the acceptable quantum of housing. This could be achieved in several ways, e.g.:

a. asking the Secretary of State for a declaration that a higher level of housing would be able to be included in an application in advance of actually making it;

b. obtaining consent from the relevant local authority/ies that a higher level would be acceptable; or

c. demonstrating that a larger quantum of housing in that location was in accordance with the local development plan.

1-mile limit

11. Again, setting a distance limit for unrelated housing provides welcome certainty. In this case NIPA accepts that if housing without a functional link to infrastructure is to be permitted, it is considerably easier to set a geographical limit such as this rather than try to define categories of housing beyond those with a functional link (e.g. those with a financial link, making the NSIP more viable, or being unlocked by it).

12. It would be helpful to be more precise about what the limit means in practice – is all of the ‘red line boundary’ for the housing to be within a mile of the edge of the red line boundary for the NSIP?

13. As currently drafted the bill does not allow ‘associated development’ that is related to the housing rather than the NSIP. If the NSIP is not itself transport infrastructure, say, housing may need its own infrastructure associated with it, which may not fall within the current scope of associated development and should be able to be included in the application as well.

14. The choice of one mile has proponents and opponents (both for being too near and too far) amongst NIPA’s membership and so we do not comment further on it.

Business and commercial projects

15. In December 2013 the government extended the Planning Act 2008 regime to include, optionally, a list of conventional business and commercial projects if they could demonstrate that they were nationally significant. The regulations [3] implementing that measure contain the same prohibition on the inclusion of dwellings in an application. NIPA would wish to obtain an assurance that this prohibition will be removed from the regulations at the same time as the relevant section of the Housing and Planning Act is brought into force, so that all types of project able to use the Planning Act regime can start to include housing at the same time.

Process and policy

16. Given that the limit of 500 dwellings is set separately for functionally linked and geographically proximate housing in paragraphs 16 and 17 of the guidance, it would be more effective to split the two definitions in the bill more clearly in the same way, i.e. divide proposed paragraph 115(4B)(b) into (i) for functionally linked and (ii) for geographically proximate.

17. The draft guidance states at paragraph 38 that if an application contains more than 500 houses or unrelated housing on land more than a mile from the infrastructure project, it will be rejected at the 28-day acceptance stage. As the Act currently stands, we do not believe that this is a valid reason for rejecting an application, and so further amendments to clause 107 may be necessary.

18. The remaining comments relate to the draft guidance rather than the drafting of clause 107 but are included here should members wish to elicit clarification from Ministers on how the clause will be expected to be used into practice.

19. Paragraphs 18 and 19 of the draft guidance appear to contradict each other – the former contemplates temporary accommodation being converted to permanent housing and the latter says that it would normally be demolished.

20. The draft guidance suggests at paragraph 20 that for applications within sensitive areas, such as the Green Belt, areas at risk from flooding etc. a lower number of dwellings may be appropriate, or no dwellings at all. Whilst NIPA understands the sensitivity of these locations, it is important as a matter of process to distinguish between the criteria for acceptance of an application and the policy tests that would be applied once an application is accepted. The process needs to be as clear as it can about what applications in principle may be able to use the DCO process and qualifying the definition by reference to planning considerations about their potential merits is not helpful – that is a matter for the later examination of an application.

21. As with the original infrastructure itself, the fact that an application can be made does not pre-suppose that it will obtain consent and each valid application should be considered on its merits. It should be for the applicant to decide whether it wishes to promote an application in a sensitive area, in the knowledge of the planning policy tests that will be applied.

22. Paragraph 27 may suggest that housing need only receive a minimum of scrutiny during an examination, whereas the equivalent guidance for associated development gives more detailed criteria at paragraph 5. NIPA suggests that something equivalent be included, at least for functionally linked housing.

23. The way that the guidance expresses how policies the NPPF and development plan should be applied to housing should not alter the current relationship between these two documents, which paragraphs 28 and 29 of the guidance may be interpreted as doing, although both will be ‘important and relevant’ according to the criteria in sections 104 and 105 of the Planning Act 2008.

24. The draft guidance states at paragraph 34 that applications for housing must provide detail equivalent to a full rather than outline planning application. We do not understand the rationale for this and would argue that the same flexibility on the level of detail of elements of an application should apply to any housing as to any other part of the application, i.e. this should be for the developer to decide depending on the circumstances. The amount of detail to be provided should be equivalent to the amount of detail in a planning application for the same development.

a. Finally, NIPA supports the proposal at paragraph 35 for an additional application document consisting of a one-page summary of the housing proposals contained in the application.

Conclusion

25. NIPA believes that with the above reservations clause 107 will implement the government’s pledge to allow ‘an element of housing’ for nationally significant infrastructure, business and commercial projects.

November 2015

Prepared 10th November 2015