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Housing

Volume 116: debated on Monday 11 May 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for the Environment, if he will make a statement about the relation between provision for housing in structure plans and its translation into local plans and development control decisions.

My Department's circular 15/84 sets out the Government's policies on land for housing. It stresses that

"It is essential that sufficient land is genuinely available in practical terms to enable the policies and proposals in approved structure plans and adopted local plans to be carried forward."
While the advice in that circular remains generally valid, it should not be applied in a doctrinaire or legalistic manner which can sometimes lead to protracted attempts at public local inquiries to prove a case with mathematical exactitude. It was to guard against this tendency that paragraph 18 says
"It is not the intention, however, that decisions on individual planning applications should turn on a precise calculation of whether the supply of identified sites for housing exactly matches or varies from the 5 year provision derived from the structure or local plan. Such calculations can rarely be exact, bearing in mind the constraints on land becoming available, the incidence of in-fill and other small sites, and variations in the capacity of allocated sites".
In all cases, each application for planning permission has to be considered having regard to provisions of the development plan and to any other material conditions.It follows that the advice in the circular on detailed procedures should be applied in a way that allows for reasonable flexibility and exceptions, and that advice of general applications should he adapted as necessary to particular situations. In particular, the following points are relevant (references to 15/84):

Market demand (paras 2, 5 and 7); in referring to the need to take account to market demand, the intention is to ensure that the provision made in structure and local plans takes proper account of the factors underlying trends in market demand—e.g. demographic changes,:he distribution of economic activity and employment, accessibility, journeys to work, availability of local services, and the kinds of housing that housebuyers want to buy. Clearly it is no use making provision for housing in ways that bear little or no relation to these factors. Equally, as is made quite clear in para 3, it is certainly not the intention that established conservation and green belt policies should be overriden in response to the market demand for housing.

Phasing (para 8): As I stated in reply to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) on 4 June 1986 "Paragraph 8 of my Department's

Circular on land for housing (15/84) refers to phasing the release of housing land. It recognises that the provision of infrastructure and other services may affect the programming of development, but advises that phasing should not be used as an arbitrary rationing process governing the release of land available for development. The purpose is to discourage the practice of specifying in development plans to precise number of acres or houses to be developed each year. Such precision is inappropriate in plans covering several years ahead. Room for flexibility is necessary to enable developers to respond to short-term changes in housing demand. Highly detailed phasing can impose unnecessary costs and constraints on orderly site development.

Where the plan extends over a long period and there are strong pressures for development which it is desirable to resist, it is reasonable for the planning authority to indicate in its plan, in reasonably broad terms, how it intends development to be programmed over the period of the plan. In the absence of such broad phasing, it would be impossible to prevent planning provisions from being exhausted in the early years of the plan. The key requirement is that such proposals for phasing should be explained." (Hansard col. 569).

(iii) Policy in the absence of an identified 5 years supply of housing land (para 12 and Annex A and B):

Paragraph 12 of the Circular asks local planning authorities to aim to ensure that at all times land for housing is or will become available within the next 5 years which can be developed within that period and which in total provides at least five years' supply in terms of the general scale and location of development provided for in approved structure plans and adopted local plans.

Annex A to the Circular deals with planning permission for private sector housebuilding. Paragraph 3 says that in the absence of such an identified five years' supply there should be a presumption in favour of granting permission for housing except where there are clear planning objections which in the circumstances of the case outweigh the need to make land available for housing. The following notes explain how this policy can best be applied in practice:

  • (a) Annex B to the Circular contains advice on joint land availability studies. Paragraphs 4 and 5 of that annex describe a "residual" method that can be used in calculating the amount of land needed to provide a 5 years' supply. It will usually be appropriate to use that method in testing whether the provisions of paragraph 3 of annex A apply.
  • (b) There may, however be some circumstances where the residual method can give very high figures which it may not be sensible to use as the basis for calculating a 5 years' supply. This can arise if house building rates have been well below the level provided for in the development plan. In cases where this situation has arisen, and is likely to remain so, the residual method of calculation may not be appropriate and the assessment may need to be based on whether the existing supply of land is likely to be sufficient to sustain the probable future level of housebuilding over the five year period having regard to recent building rates and other relevant factors.
  • (c) If the use of the residual method gives a very low figure for the five years' supply because past building rates have been higher than expected, it may be necessary for the local planning authority to bring forward proposals to revise the development plan to increase the provision made for future years. These proposals can then be considered at an examination in public or at a local plan inquiry in the usual way.

    (d) When considering the land which is available to provide the five years' supply, the advice in paragraph 11 of the circular should be followed. This says that sites must be free, or easily freed, from planning, physical and ownership constraints and also be capable of being developed economically, be in areas where potential buyers want to live, and be suitable for the wide range of housing types which the market now requires. The reference to land being free of ownership constraints is intended to ensure that land is not counted as being available if it is subject to legal or other constraints that means that it is unlikely to become available to the housebuilding industry for development within the five year period. However, all land owned or controlled by builders or developers should be included, provided that it is capable of being developed within five years and it is otherwise suitable in the terms of the circular.

    The techniques and procedures set out in the circular are intended to ensure that policies are operated in a fair and consistent manner. It is essential that they should not be applied in a way that becomes an obstacle to sensible decisions. There must always be room for negotiation and compromise in the conduct of the planning process.