Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by Sedgemoor District Council (HPB 41)

Many thanks for the opportunity to comment on the content of the Housing and Planning Bill.

As a Local Planning Authority, the Bill is clearly a matter of interest for our Council and contains a range of proposals which will have operational impacts for both our housing, benefits and planning services.

In order to provide a coherent response, we have summarised our views under the eight headline provision sections of the Bill:

i) Starter Homes and Self/Custom Build

Sedgemoor District Council welcomes in principle the general duty of all planning authorities to promote the supply of Starter Homes. The duty, to be express through the planning framework, is not consider onerous and should complement our existing approach to providing a balanced housing offer locally.

Sedgemoor however will be keen to comment on the later regulation of this matter, in order to ensure that the proportion and delivery of related units is taken forward in a way which builds upon existing best practise.

Sedgemoor believes that the content of Chapter 2, which focuses upon providing adequate land provision to meet local demand for self-build, may be more difficult to deliver then currently envisaged. Whilst the intent is appreciated, the ability of local authorities to deliver adequate land for such a purpose is wholly dependent upon having willing developer and land owners interest. However, consultation on the new local plan suggests an approach that will encourage starter homes to come forward in smaller rural communities as exception sites.

ii) Tackling Rogue Landlords

Sedgemoor District Council is broadly supportive of the new powers outlined to address issues with rogue landlords, which will complement existing housing provisions. The council however does have concerns over how deliverable the proposal will be and what form of new burden it will place on authorities. It also remains unclear how any national process will work.

iii) A Right to Buy for Housing Association Tenants

Whilst Sedgemoor appreciates the rationale of Government in bringing forward the provision, we are acutely aware that this proposal, alongside other impacts on the Housing Association sector, has led to a slowdown in public sector house building.

As such, whilst Sedgemoor would not wish to comment on the specific settlement reached at this juncture, the Council does believe that any approach needs to carefully balance the need to sustain Housing Association investment against the wider benefits being pursued through the Right to Buy regime. Alternatively, as a stock owning authority, Sedgemoor is also keen to ensure that treatment of stock is equitable between local authorities and Housing Associations.

iv) Pay to Stay

In principle, Sedgemoor has no specific objection to the pay to stay principle put forward through the Bill. A burden assessment however should be undertaken as part of the proposal to ensure that Government fully understands the additional monitoring and management issues involved in enacting the principle, and provides adequate additional support to authorities.

v) Assisting Local Authority Private Sector

Sedgemoor are supportive of the proposals put forward, though believe a new burdens assessment should be done to apply the fit and proper persons provision.

vi) Speeding up the Planning System

Whilst the intention behind the need to speed up the planning system is understood, Sedgemoor is concerned over the proposals for the Secretary of State to further intervene in local and neighbourhood planning processes.

In response, authorities such as Sedgemoor have a strong record on both delivery and allocating and consenting housing. Barriers more often centre on issues such as site viability than matters around principle or plan. Whilst the Government’s determination to ensure delivery of housing numbers is understood and appreciated, Government do run the risk with this provision of committing themselves to becoming involved in the minutia of day to day planning matters, rather than supporting authorities to drive growth through other methods. At a time when Government are proactively discussing further devolution to Local Government around the country, it would also appear a retrograde step for the Secretary of State to then involve themselves with what are often extremely local matters, undermining both local accountability and democracy.

On other provisions within the Bill, Sedgemoor has no concern about major infrastructure projects that include an element of housing, applying for development consent through the 2008 Planning Act regime, rather than having to seek separate planning permission. With the Hinkley C Development Consent Order we would have welcomed and indeed suggested that an element of housing was included. The Council pushed very hard for legacy benefits from the housing investment proposed.  The provision of purely temporary housing for the construction workforce, particularly on a strategic housing site in Bridgwater town centre, leaves little legacy benefit. Better value could have been made through a more collaborative Masterplanning exercise which could have secured a positive housing legacy as was the case with the Olympics. This could have been through permanent housing which could have be converted later or even agreed core infrastructure that could remain to further enable permanent housing after temporary uses.

Temporary housing could have also been converted to student accommodation or college uses so our suggestion would be that the DCO regime needs to allow flexibility to agree legacy uses for associated development, that integrate into the proper planning of the area. It would also be helpful if there was a direct link across into the TCPA regime as some of these sites are the same. It may be for example that the DCO regime makes a direct link by setting out that proposals for legacy use should be considered by the local planning authority through a TCPA application.

The provision of a secure, fenced, temporary accommodation for 1000 on a key town centre housing site in Bridgwater, is clearly not well related to the proper planning of the area and will discourage the market to respond on adjacent housing sites. The agreement of a Hinkley housing zone is welcomed but we are yet to see how this will help deliver housing or indeed if it can draw out improved legacy from the temporary housing already agreed by the Secretary of State.

With regards the provision of a brownfield register and housing provision, Sedgemoor are supportive of the idea in principle, but have concerns over the new administrative burden involved, as well as how much land will actually be unlocked from area to area. At a time when planning teams are already implementing significant change processes to meet a shifting planning framework, further changes should be carefully considered in the light of new burdens.

However, Sedgemoor believes that Government must be realistic that the level of brownfield land actually involved will change from place to place, and that the resultant delivery in rural areas will, by sheer practicability, trail that of more brownfield intensive urban areas. Viability will also be a key barrier for any additional brownfield delivery, with a strong likelihood that brownfield land will remain unattractive regardless of planning status, due to the supplementary remediation and development costs often involved.

There is also the wider issue of impact on the supply of employment land. Care must be taken to avoid skewing the growth agenda to a pure housing focus, creating an imbalance in growth which is not sustainable and places further demands on transport infrastructure.

vii) Compulsory Purchase

Sedgemoor is supportive of the provisions put forward, which would further aid local development.

I hope the above provides a brief but constructive response to the Bill under scrutiny. Officers and members would be happy to elaborate on any or all of the above if felt helpful.

November 2015

Prepared 17th November 2015