Housing and Planning Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (HPB 48)

Introduction

1. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is a registered charity with around 60,000 members and a branch in every English county. We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to the Bill Committee. Our network of 43 county branches and over 200 district groups have extensive involvement with planning. This submission reflects a large volume of feedback received from them. Our charitable objects include the pursuit of the better development of the rural environment for the benefit of the nation and a key part of this is to promote delivery of the right types of housing in the right places to meet local needs.

2. The Housing and Planning Bill (‘the Bill’) contains very welcome provisions, such as the proposals for a brownfield register and better neighbourhood planning. On the other hand, some elements are likely to compound rather than tackle the housing crisis, particularly in rural areas, and to complicate further an already unnecessarily impenetrable planning system. Many of the measures in the Bill will depend on the publication of further regulations and Ministerial directions that may not be subject to public or Parliamentary scrutiny. It will be critical that the Government provides details and assurances about these at Committee Stage. The Bill also introduces significant changes to the basis of the English planning system, including ‘permission in principle’ and zoning, without the benefit of having those changes properly debated through a Green or White Paper process.

Clauses 1-7: Starter Homes

3. CPRE does not support the proposed starter homes provisions.

4. Starter homes are already promoted through national planning policy and guidance. The existing policy approach encourages the provision of starter homes, which meet needs that fall between normal market homes and traditional social rented housing, without unduly favouring one type or tenure of housing.

5. Placing a statutory duty on local planning authorities to promote the supply of starter homes will privilege this type of housing over others. It is already easy for housing developers to negotiate their way out of providing essential social rented and other forms of affordable housing on the basis of development viability; this situation will be exacerbated if local planning authorities are directed only to grant permission if the "starter homes requirement" is met under clause 4, unless a similar requirement applied to traditional affordable housing.

6. Starter homes should be an important element of the housing mix available in any particular area, subject to appropriate assessments of need and demand, but legislation should not privilege this type of accommodation over that which addresses the needs of people who have fewer choices in accessing affordable housing.

7. CPRE considers that clauses 1 to 7 are unnecessary and potentially damaging and should be removed from the Bill.

Clauses 8-11: Self Build and Custom Housebuilding

8. CPRE supports measures that would facilitate housing development by individuals, families and small and medium sized house builders. Such measures are more responsive to local needs and usually result in higher quality and more locally distinctive developments. Our Housing Foresight [1] reports highlight access to land as a particular problem for such enterprises as suitable development sites can often be controlled by large development interests.

9. Nevertheless, CPRE is concerned that the emphasis placed by the existing Self-build and Custom Housebuilding Act 2015 on local planning authorities providing ‘serviced plots of land’ may be too onerous in many areas, especially with competing demands for land including other forms of development, an issue that is not resolved through this Bill. This would be particularly difficult if it is expected that self-and custom-built plots should be identified in addition to sites identified to meet the normal requirement for a 5-year supply of housing land.

10. There is also a concern that there is no specific link in the existing or proposed legislation between persons on a local register of those seeking to acquire land, and their particular needs or desires, and any development that actually takes place as self-or custom-build. This may result in sites being identified and developed without having any impact on meeting need identified in the register. CPRE would advocate a more sophisticated means of identifying sites for self-and custom-build to be embedded in legislation or guidance. The benefits of site identification should be focused on meeting local needs, by requiring that sites identified for self-and custom-build take account of the needs of those persons on the register, and those persons benefit from right of first refusal.

Clauses 56-61: Extended Right to Buy

11. CPRE is very concerned about the impact of these proposals on the social fabric of rural communities.

12. We recognise that the provisions of the Bill are based around the agreement reached between the Government and the National Housing Federation (NHF), but it is our understanding that many housing associations do not agree with their trade body making this agreement, and that the Federation may have been coerced into agreement under the threat of more draconian measures that could have been put into this Bill.

13. We believe that the agreement between the Government and NHF on the extension to the right to buy has failed to follow guidance set out in the HM Treasury’s Green Book [2] . That recognises that Government should be committed to ensuring that ‘all of its policies take account of specific rural circumstances’ and that ‘appraisers should assess whether proposals are likely to have a different impact in rural areas from elsewhere.’

14. The agreement fails to recognise that the housing market in rural areas is significantly different from elsewhere in England. Average house prices in rural areas are 22% or £43,490 higher in rural areas than in urban areas (excluding London). The workplace based median annual income is significantly lower [3] in predominantly rural areas at £19,900 compared to £24,500 in predominantly urban areas. The gulf between house prices and incomes mean that many rural families are in need of affordable housing provided by local authorities or housing associations. However, just 8% of housing stock in rural areas is classed as affordable compared with 20% in urban areas [4] . The lack of affordable housing in rural areas means that many households on low incomes from rural areas are already moving to urban areas to find suitable affordable accommodation.

15. The agreement has no requirement for replacement affordable housing to be provided in the communities from which an affordable house has been sold under the scheme. It is more complex and expensive for housing associations to provide homes in rural communities, [5] so it is likely that housing associations will replace affordable housing in urban locations, where construction costs are cheaper and sites are more readily available.

16. A large proportion of rural affordable housing is built on land that has been provided at a discount by philanthropic land owners, known as rural exception sites. Usually, the land is given on the understanding that the housing provided will be used to house locally connected people on low incomes in perpetuity. While the Government’s agreement protects housing with certain covenants, it fails explicitly to protect housing on rural exception sites. If the affordable housing on rural exception sites is not explicitly protected from the right to buy in perpetuity, land owners will have no incentive to provide suitable sites for affordable housing into the future.

17. Due to their rural location and their property type, many rural affordable homes are likely to be classified as high value and eligible for sell off. Sale of these properties will have a significantly negative impact on already low levels of supply of affordable housing in rural locations.

18. CPRE considers that there should be a full rural exemption from the extended right to buy. This should cover homes in National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and rural communities of up to 3,000 inhabitants, as well as larger rural settlements up to 10,000 inhabitants where there is significant existing demand for affordable housing.

19. If a full rural exemption is not provided, CPRE would call for:

1. a statutory requirement under clause 58 for an annual report on the impact of the extended right to buy on accessibility to affordable housing in rural areas and on the social and economic character of rural communities; and

2. provisions that require that, in rural areas as defined above, (a) homes to be disposed of through the right to buy should not be released until a site (or sites) for their replacement have been identified and permission has been granted, and (b) with certain exceptions, these replacement homes are provided within the same community as the homes that have been disposed of.

Clauses 92-95: Neighbourhood Planning

20. CPRE strongly supports neighbourhood planning, and has a history of working positively with Government to promote the activity to rural communities. The measures proposed in the Bill to remove unnecessary obstacles for communities wishing to produce neighbourhood plans are very much supported.

21. We remain concerned, however, that many communities are deterred from producing neighbourhood plans because they feel that their policies and proposals, prepared in good faith, may be jeopardised by decisions made on planning applications in their areas by local planning authorities who do not necessarily feel ownership of neighbourhood plans.

22. In order to overcome this concern, CPRE proposes an amendment to the Bill to create a limited ‘Neighbourhood Right of Appeal’ for neighbourhood planning bodies to appeal against the granting of permission that conflicts with the policies of a made or well-advanced neighbourhood plan.

23. To move the following Clause (after existing clause 95):-

95A Neighbourhood right of appeal

(1) After section 78 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 (appeals to the Secretary of State against planning decisions and failure to take such decisions) after subsection (2) insert-

"(78A) A neighbourhood right of appeal

(1) Where-

(a) a planning authority grants an application for planning permission, and

(b) the application does not accord with policies in an emerging or made neighbourhood plan in which the land to which the application relates is situated, and

(c) the neighbourhood plan in subsection (1)(a) contains proposals for the provision of housing development, certain persons as specified in subsection (2) below may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State.

(2) Persons who may by notice appeal to the Secretary of State against the approval of planning permission in the circumstances specified in subsection (1) above are any parish council or neighbourhood forum by two thirds majority voting, as defined in Section 61F, whose made or emerging neighbourhood plan includes all or part of the area of land to which the application relates.

(3) In this section ‘emerging’ means a neighbourhood plan that has been examined, is being examined, or is due to be examined, having met the public consultation requirements necessary to proceed to this stage.

(2) Section 79 of the Town & Country Planning Act 1990 is amended as follows-

(a) In subsection (2), leave out "either" and after "planning authority", insert "or the applicant (where different from the appellant)";

(b) In subsection (6), after "the determination", insert "(except for appeals as defined in section 78A and where the appellant is as defined in section 79 (2B)).

Clause 102: Permission in principle

24. CPRE understands that ‘permission in principle’ has been proposed as a means of moving towards a ‘zoning’ system for planning new development, in order to give developers more "bankable" certainty earlier on in the development process.

25. This is predicated on the assumption that local plan or neighbourhood plan site allocations do not currently provide this level of certainty even though national planning policy provides that where a planning application accords with a development plan it should be approved without delay. Developers, it is argued, are therefore obliged to seek onerous ‘outline’ consent to achieve a "bankable" proposal. The clause as it currently stands does not address the matter of certainty, because it seeks automatically to grant permission in principle on sites allocated in a development plan or included in the so-called ‘brownfield register’ (see below). If the details provided by a development plan allocation policy are currently not sufficient to secure a "bankable" permission, then an automatic ‘permission in principle’ based on the same plan allocation will be just as insufficient, and developers will continue to rely on outline applications to meet their needs.

26. For automatic permission in principle to be effective in terms of "bankability", far more detail will need to be provided within local and neighbourhood plans (and in the brownfield register) on each potential development site than is currently the case, which may have the contrary effect of slowing down development processes by further delaying the preparation of plans and the evidence to support them.

27. CPRE is very concerned that clause 102 proposes to give the Secretary of State the power to grant blanket permission in principle for as-yet unspecified forms of development on as-yet unspecified classes of site, regardless of the locally-determined policies and proposals of local and neighbourhood development plans, regarding the purpose to which allocated sites are to be put and the scale and type of development that should take place on them.

28. CPRE considers that permission in principle as currently put forward in the Bill appears to be ill-conceived. Particularly to the extent to which powers over the form of development that could be permitted in principle could be determined by the Secretary of State, rather than locally.

29. Therefore, we suggest that if the concept of permission in principle is retained in the Bill, it should be specifically related to delivering local needs and aspirations. We propose that the automatic grant of permission in principle through a development plan allocation or the brownfield register should trigger the opportunity for, and funding for, the relevant neighbourhood planning body to determine, through neighbourhood planning processes, the detail of development to take place on the site (subject to conformity with the permission in principle). Such a provision would need to refer to timescales within which a neighbourhood planning body could reasonably be expected to undertake this work, before other processes would be allowed to apply. It would also need to account for the pre-existence of relevant planning permissions or proposals embodied in an existing up-to-date supplementary planning document such as a site development brief.

Clause 103: Register of land

30. CPRE warmly welcomes the principle of the brownfield register, which responds to our campaigning for greater use of brownfield sites for development.

31. Our 2014 report, From Wasted Spaces to Living Spaces [6] , showed that there is enough suitable, available brownfield land in areas of significant housing demand in England to provide at least 975,000 homes. It demonstrated that brownfield land is not a finite resource; rather its supply is constantly being replenished. We commend the idea of the register to the Committee as the means to address the "absence of robust data" on the matter correctly identified in para 6.57 of the Bill Impact Assessment.

32. Nevertheless, it is not stated clearly in the Bill or its explanatory notes that the registers that local planning authorities will be required to maintain will necessarily relate only to brownfield land. Rather, sites on the register will be "of a prescribed description" which "may" refer to "a description in national policies and advice". CPRE considers that it is essential that the description of sites to be included in the register is determined through the Bill and hence in the primary legislation. Without this safeguard, it will be open to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government’s successors to direct the form and scale of development on any type of site in England through the ‘permission in principle’ procedures (notwithstanding CPRE’s objection clause 102 in that regard), without reference to the needs and aspirations of local communities expressed through their local and neighbourhood plans.

33. CPRE therefore recommends that under clause 103, the title of section 14A is revised to read "Register of brownfield land", and that paragraph (1) within that section is redrafted to specify the description of land to be included on the register using the form of words for the definition of ‘previously developed land’ in Annex 2 to the National Planning Policy Framework.

Clause 107: Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIPs)

34. CPRE agrees that there may be circumstances in which the requirement that NSIP proposals cannot include housing developments compromises the practicability of such proposals. This may be simply the provision of a small number of homes for workers associated with the infrastructure in question and their families. Or, it may be a matter of making the best use of a development opportunity associated with infrastructure, such as providing homes as part of a transport hub. In such cases it is reasonable to allow necessary housing to be planned as an integral part not only of the infrastructure proposal, but of the wider community as a whole.

35. We are concerned, however, that the clause currently appears to leave open the question of the extent to which NSIP proposals could be used to promote and deliver housing-led developments as a result of lack of clarity with regard to the meaning of "related housing development". The NSIP process relies on the need for the development having already been established through a National Policy Statement (NPS) before an application is submitted. Clearly it is not intended that this provision should be supported by a top-down housing NPS, which would imply over-riding local evidence and discretion on housing need.

36. CPRE therefore proposes that the definition of "related housing development" in clause 107(4) is further refined with reference to:

· the operational need for workers’ homes (along similar lines to agricultural workers’ dwellings), or

· the homes meeting local objectively assessed needs for housing and their development at the location in question having been proposed or supported in an adopted or emerging local or neighbourhood plan.

37. CPRE does not support, as others have suggested, a prescribed upper limit on the numbers of homes that could be provided through NSIP proposals (other than a limit set locally by a local or neighbourhood plan). Such a provision could have the perverse effect of encouraging NSIP promoters to include homes up to the prescribed limit in their schemes by default. All housing elements in NSIP schemes should be justified with regard to operational need or conformity with local or neighbourhood plans, regardless of their size. An upper limit could also have the effect of preventing planning for a reasonable locally-led scheme which exceeded the prescribed limit.

November 2015


[1] http://www.cpre.org.uk/what-we-do/housing-and-planning/housing/update

[2] Treasury Guidance https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/220541/green_book_complete.pdf

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/statistical-digest-of-rural-england-2013

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-housing-survey-2013-to-2014-headline-report

[5] http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/housing-and-planning/housing/item/4009-a-living-countryside

[6] http://www.cpre.org.uk/resources/housing-and-planning/housing/item/3785-from-wasted-space-to-living-spaces

Prepared 17th November 2015