Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Locality (HPB 112)

Summary

Locality is the national network of ambitious and enterprising community-led organisations, working together to help neighbourhoods thrive. Our network is a strong, collective voice inspiring community action to create a fair and diverse society where local people determine their future together. We also run My Community providing resources, inspiration and advice on Community Rights, Neighbourhood Planning and Our Place, enabling communities to have influence and control over local assets, services and development.

Locality has been working with communities to develop neighbourhood plans since the powers were introduced in the Localism Act, 2011. Neighbourhood planning is a way to enable people to shape their communities, influence growth in an area, and allows local residents to set their own planning policies that reflect local priorities and deliver local benefits. We have directly supported over 1000 communities to develop neighbourhood plans.

In this submission we outline two key concerns relating to Part4, Chapter 1 (Implementing Right to Buy on a voluntary basis) and Part 6 (Planning in England):

· We seek an amendment to Part 4, Chapter 1 in order to specify an exemption for community-led housing organisations. Community lead housing is designed and managed by local people in order to meet the needs of the community and to transform local neighbourhoods. Implementing Right to Buy in this sector would disrupt the added value which community-led housing brings, including the provision and protection of affordable housing. We recommend the adoption of a specific definition of community led housing (Annex A) which would enable their specific exemption.

· We outline a number of clarifications which are required to guidance on the designation of neighbourhood areas and permission in principle which are introduced through this Bill (Part 6, Schedules 92,102,103). This includes a number of recommendations for reviewing the Neighbourhood Planning Practice Guidance to run alongside the introduction of this Bill. Without this additional guidance, it is difficult to assess the overall impact which these aspects of the Bill will have on neighbourhood planning and community involvement in shaping the built environment.

Part 4, Chapter 1 – Implementing the Right to Buy on a voluntary basis.

1. Locality is concerned about the impact which extending the Right to Buy will have on small scale community-led housing (CLH) organisations.

2. CLH is designed and managed by local people in order to meet the needs of the community and to transform local neighbourhoods; existing CLH projects have been delivered through huge amounts of voluntary time from the local community. [1] As CLH is driven by community priorities, the choice about tenure mix is a considered reflection of specific local knowledge.

3. The operations and objectives of CLH providers are fully aligned with localism, and local government’s responsibilities to promote social, economic and environmental wellbeing in their areas. However, a Right to Buy for CLH organisations would fracture the local identity that characterises and drives them, and threaten the progress these organisations have made in pursuing the localism agenda.

4. As CLH providers have a uniquely local focus, it will not be possible to directly replace homes lost through Right to Buy at this level and therefore the longer term benefits to the community are threatened.

5. Currently, concerns around the impact of Right to Buy are impacting new CLH developments, and there are already examples of projects being cancelled because the community does not want to devote voluntary time to building local affordable homes that cannot be retained in perpetuity.

Recommendations

6. Locality recommends a specific exemption for CLH groups within the Right to Buy policy to be added to Part 1, Chapter 1, Schedule 61 ‘Interpretation of this Chapter’, to change the definition of private registered providers to exempt CLH organisations.

7. The government has stated an aim of supporting 1.3 million households into homeownership, partially due to the Right to Buy policy. CLH currently accounts for less than 1% of total housing supply, and therefore exempting homes in the existing CLH sector would account for only a very small loss against this target, while the effect on local communities who have developed CLH or will to in the future will be huge.

8. The value of community led housing in transforming local communities and providing homes and employment, as well as offering financial stability to small scale community organisations, is too high to risk. We call on the Committee to exempt CLH from Right to Buy by adopting our proposed definition of CLH (see Annex A), and protect this innovative and enterprising are of housing supply. The definition includes the very small or early state CLH providers who are most vulnerable to the consequences of Right to Buy.

Part 6 – Planning in England

Designation of neighbourhood areas (Schedule 92)

9. We would welcome better use of the designation of neighbourhood areas for neighbourhood plans by strengthening the presumption towards including strategic sites within neighbourhood areas.

10. Currently, the Neighbourhood Planning Practice Guidance (NPPG) [2] states that "a neighbourhood area can include land allocated in a Local Plan as a strategic site." However, in practice Local Planning Authorities often exclude strategic sites from neighbourhood areas; the implications of this is that the Community Infrastructure Levy which could benefit the community implementing a neighbourhood plan does not apply.

Recommendations:

11. It is essential that, alongside Part 6(92) of this Bill, the NPPG should be updated. We would recommended that the ‘Designating a neighbourhood area: What flexibility is there in setting the boundaries of a neighbourhood area’ section of the NPPG should include additional clarification on strategic sites. This should read:

"A local planning authority is required to have regard to the desirability of including strategic sites in the designated neighbourhood plan area."

Permission in principle and local registers of land (Schedules 102,103)

12. We are concerned about the lack of clarity around the introduction of the permission in principle. This could have a huge impact on the way neighbourhood planning works, and yet there are a number of important questions that remain unanswered:

How is the permission in principle different from outline planning permission?

13. This is important to determining what level of technical expertise would be required within a neighbourhood plan. Permission in principle would likely be more onerous than outline planning permission, and require considerations beyond use and viability, however this has not yet been explicitly stated. More clarity is required in order to determine these implications.

Who will be granting the permission in principle? Can a permission in principle be granted by a Neighbourhood Plan?

14. We are very concerned that if the Local Planning Authority grants permission in principle and sites are classed as strategic, this has implications for the neighbourhood plan and could result in conflict with the neighbourhood plan allocations and could override the views of the community.

15. Furthermore, if permission in principle is granted to sites ‘in perpetuity’ then this will have huge implications on whether communities are able to review local plans over time.

16. Similarly if permission in principles apply to all brownfield sites on the register of land, this will impact on site allocations and the ability of neighbourhood plans to address local housing development.

Recommendations:

17. We strongly recommend that the NPPG is thoroughly reviewed in the context of the Bill in order to provide clarity over the use of permission in principle, and avert significant conflict with neighbourhood planning. It is important that this review involves extensive consultation with those organisations involved with neighbourhood planning.

November 2015

ANNEX A: PROPOSED STATUTORY DEFINITION FOR COMMUNITY LED HOUSING


Anthony Collins Solicitors LLP Working Draft 7 August 2015

1. A Community Led Housing Provider is a body corporate ("a body") which makes available, or intends to make available, dwellings in England and satisfies all the conditions in sub-section 3 and at least one of the conditions in subsection 4.

2. In these conditions the following definitions apply:

a. "dwellings" means flats and houses for occupation by individuals as their only home;

b. "local community" means the individuals who live and/or work, or want to live and/or work in a specified area and/or are part of a specified community;

c. "own" and "owned" means ownership of a freehold interest and/or a leasehold interest;

d. "specified area" means the locality or region referred to in a body’s constitution;

e. "specified community" means the individuals to whom the body seeks to provide a benefit as set out in its constitution.

3. The conditions that must be satisfied are that:

a. the body includes within its constitution the purpose of providing accommodation to the local community and/or for the members of the body;

b. the local community have the opportunity to become members of the body (whether or not others can also become members);

c. the local community must provide the majority vote on resolutions at general meetings and decisions at management board meetings;

d. any profits or surplus from its activities will be used to benefit the local community or other activities of the body as set out in its constitution (otherwise than being paid directly to members);

e. the accommodation let to individuals is owned by the body;

f. the number of properties owned by the body does not exceed 1000.

4. One of the conditions set out in this sub-section 4 must be satisfied:

a. the body’s objects include furthering the social, economic and/or environmental interests of a local community; or

b. the body is owned in the majority by its members who are also the tenants of the body.

Prepared 3rd December 2015