NPPF Changes Consultation 2015

Ensuring Housing Is Delivered On Land Allocated In Plans

Question 11.

We would welcome your views on how best to implement the housing delivery test, and in particular...

  • What do you consider should be the baseline against which to monitor delivery of new housing?
  • What should constitute significant under-delivery, and over what time period?
  • What steps should be taken in response to significant under-delivery?
  • How do you see this approach working when the housing policies in the Local Plan are not up to date?

What do you consider should be the baseline against which to monitor delivery of new housing?

We disagree with making the LPA solely responsible for fulfilling the housing delivery test.  While the NPPF requires the LPA to have a continuing 5-year supply of land for housing and to use its planning capacities to ensure timely approval of permissions, it has no control over the commercial objectives of house builders to whom the permissions are granted.  House builders will only build if the economic conditions indicate they can sell at a profit, otherwise they will ‘land bank’ the permissions.

Under such prevailing circumstances, we believe the LPA should have the capacity in statute to rescind unbuilt permissions after two years in order to incentivise house builders to build out granted permissions as fast as possible.


Rather than introduce a housing delivery test that would require local planning authorities to release land for development, introduce a condition to planning permission that developments must be completed (not just started) within five years or house builders face financial penalties. This would encourage them to complete developments within a fixed period. Local authorities should also be allowed to set realistic housing targets based on local need that are likely to be delivered over 20 years - instead of the current approach, which is failing to deliver the housing we need in the right places.

  • We propose the number of permissions against local plan targets is a fairer basis of monitoring than completions.
  • Delivery is often outside the control of the local authority. Account has to be taken of delays by the developer and other bodies responsible for providing the supporting infrastructure. The local planning authority should not be penalised if delays in implementation are outside its control.
  • There should be mechanisms in place to stop developers sitting on land with planning permission, or identified in SHLAAs as developable, whilst they wait for an increase in land values. There should be powers or policies to enable local authorities to compulsorily purchase land at a reduced value if developers are not being constructive. Section 106 agreements or bonds relating to starts and completions could also encourage development on time.

What should constitute significant under-delivery, and over what time period?

A two year period is too short. There could be problems of land assembly and infrastructure delays particularly with larger schemes. A rolling five years would be more appropriate, giving an early warning if there are problems with delivery. A 10% annual deficiency would be a more helpful indicator than if a local authority falls behind with a few dwellings over a 1 or 2 year period, particularly if permissions have been granted but not implemented.

  • There should be an annual monitoring system in place.
  • We support the suggestion of a range of development sizes so that an authority is not dependent on 1 or 2 large schemes. Local authorities should have the powers to require that large sites could be broken into smaller estates and thereby assist small builders as well as resulting in the creation of more varied and interesting layouts. 

What steps should be taken in response to significant under-delivery?

  • We suggest that, as stated above, if a developer is ‘land banking’ and not submitting applications/ implementing permissions, the local planning authority should be able to compulsorily purchase the land at a reduced price. The threat of this occurring should help reduce delays. Before a local authority is forced to identify more land, if there is so-called ‘under delivery’, it needs to be established who is responsible. It may be necessary for an Inspector to decide. The whole emphasis should be on the landowners to develop their land, where identified for development instead of requiring the local authorities to allocate more land.
  • We are opposed to permission being granted on appeal for housing development in inappropriate locations, particularly where there have been delays with the adoption of the local plan arising from additional work following an Inspector’s recommendation at an EIP. The identification of sustainable sites must be the responsibility of the local authority through the proper planning process.
  • Some authorities identify reserve sites in case some of the proposed sites do not perform. We suggest a requirement in the NPPF for local plans to include reserve sites, in sustainable locations. These would be tested through the EIP process.
  • We remain of the view that if an authority has identified sufficient developable sites and particularly where there are an adequate number of permissions granted to meet its targets, it should not be penalized if the land owners or developers do not perform.  In exceptional cases there may be a need to bring forward the reserve sites.

How do you see this approach working when the housing policies in the Local Plan are not up to date?

  • Account has to be taken of why the housing policies are not up to date and if there is a good reason. For example, if an Inspector has required modifications to a local plan at an EIP which requires further work, or changes in Government policy which may bring delays in revising a local plan.
  • It is not clear which body will select the additional sustainable sites.  If taken away from the local planning authority, this could lead to unsatisfactory locations if there is no local input. It is not clear at which stage there would be public involvement. Proposals must go through the local plan EIP process and be based on evidence of need.

Question 12.

What would be the impact of a housing delivery test on development activity?

  • If identified sites are not coming forward, if the delays are beyond the local authorities control, there should be pressures on developers as well.
  • For their part, councils can identify reserve sites but we would like to see them have additional powers. such as compulsorily purchasing land identified for development which is not coming forward, and using Section 106 agreements / bonds to ensure development proceeds as programmed.
  • We propose an Inspector assessing the test before a local authority is forced to identify more land.

Question 13.

What evidence would you suggest could be used to justify retention of land for commercial development or similar use? Should there be a fixed time limit on land retention for commercial use?

  • We are very concerned at the growing imbalance between providing land for housing, including permitted development changes from commercial floorspace to residential on the one hand and the lack of firm policies on providing other forms of essential land use on the other. Hundreds of new homes are being provided each year in the South East with little regard to the provision of adequate employment floorspace except in the retail trades.
  • We are opposed to the release of good employment land which could well be required in the next 5-10 years. 3 years is too short a time frame, particularly if there is a recession, when housing development land is allocated for 10-15 years ahead in most local plans. We would strongly object to the short time frame as it appears to put pressure on greenfield/ Green Belt land for commercial development because all the potential employment land has gone for housing.
  • We support the requirement for need assessments and evidence of market demand for employment floorspace, but this should cover a longer time frame than 3 years and include an element of growth where population levels are increasing. A major problem in the South East, including London, is that residential values are far higher than that of other forms of land use, resulting in the loss of mixed-use land uses including employment.
  • If greenfield sites are allocated for employment in a Local Plan and then not used they must be returned to their former status. To do otherwise would be to create an easy way for owners of Green Belt and other green field sites to convert their land for housing.

Question 14.

Do you consider that the starter home exception site policy should be extended to unviable or under used retail, leisure and non-residential institutional brownfield land?

  • A blanket policy may not be appropriate. The local planning authority should be able to determine the balance required. In Guildford, for example, with its pressures for more housing, there are associated needs for many more schools, and much valued amenity land is already under threat. There is already an infrastructure deficit and this will increase with the current proposals.
  • We appreciate the demand for starter homes but this should not be at the expense of bad land planning and inadequate infrastructure and services. Local authorities must have firm evidence that the land is genuinely redundant. 

Question 15.

Do you support the proposal to strengthen the starter homes exception site policy? If not why not?

  • A list of constraints in the local plan should be broad enough to cover sites in the Green Belt or areas of high landscape value and biodiversity. Some general guidance in the NPPF may be acceptable but on the basis that local plan policies should be paramount in setting out specific circumstances. 
  • We have reservations about giving so much priority to starter homes at the expense of low cost rental, especially social housing. We object strongly to low cost rented houses being sacrificed for market sector starter homes.

Question 16.

Should starter homes form a significant element of any housing component within mixed use developments and converted unlet commercial units?

  • We support the provision of some accommodation for first time buyers in mixed use developments, providing this does not result in the loss of needed commercial floorspace, and so support the requirement for evidence that there is no demand.
  • There needs to be a definition of what is meant by ‘significant’. We are concerned that if it means 50% or more of the affordable allocation, there should be o net loss of other forms of affordable housing.
  •  Many households, even those with 20% reduction, will not be able to afford to live in starter homes costing £250,000 in Guildford. There needs to be a mix of housing to accommodate all income levels, including essential workers.

Question 17.

Should rural exception sites be used to deliver starter homes in rural areas? If so, should local planning authorities have the flexibility to require local connection tests?

  • Small settlements may be expected to accommodate more than one exception site which could have implications on the existing infrastructure. The policy could result in urban sprawl and deter developers from using brownfield sites. The community and local authority must be able to determine the number and size of rural exception sites, particularly if in the Green Belt or where the development would harm the character of the settlement and surrounding countryside.
  • Rural Exception Sites are already provided for under current planning legislation and arrangements. However, it is our experience with Green Belt settlements that developers look closely at the minimum affordable housing criteria, minimum land area criteria and attempt to maximise market housing rather than affordable housing. It also leads to larger coherent sites being broken up into smaller sites to avoid the minimum criteria. Such sites still have to be assessed against the five purposes of the Green Belt. We oppose any attempt to reduce the minimum criteria for proposed number of dwellings.
  • The survey methodology for determining housing demand for Rural Exception Sites is poor and subjective often leading to potential occupants with no local connections sourced from the LPA general housing lists ending up in the properties. This makes a mockery of the intention to house local people with a connection to the rural community who are unable to afford market housing.
  • The implementation of the ‘right to buy’ within the housing stock of housing associations to implemented in the Planning & Housing Bill currently in front of Parliament will simply mean affordable housing that is generated in this way eventually becoming market housing and the intent to maintain housing for rural workers is negated.
  • We propose that new housing in Rural Exception sites are excluded from the “right to buy” proposals in order to preserve rural housing for rural residents with a connection to the area.

Question 18.

Are there any other policy approaches to delivering starter homes in rural areas that you would support?

  • More development in the Green Belt on brownfield sites and other sites allocated in neighbourhood plans should only be permitted if the land can be built on without causing urban sprawl or compromising the openness of the Green Belt. There should be a tightening of definition of the exceptions that can be used in local plans to justify removing land from the Green Belt
  • It is essential to carry out an assessment of local need in rural settlements to ascertain the demand for rented as well as starter homes. We are against any increased urban sprawl within the Green Belt, particularly if the emphasis is on starter homes which may not be a local priority in terms of need and affordability.
  • Starter and social homes should remain affordable in perpetuity; otherwise, there will be continuing pressures for a programme of more exception sites. 
  • A proportion of the 20% starter home discount should be paid back on resale and reinvested in low cost housing.

Question 19.

Should local communities have the opportunity to allocate sites for small scale Starter Home developments in the Green Belt through their neighbourhood plans?

  • The ability to alter Green Belt boundaries should remain with the local authorities. It is for the local authority to evaluate how well the Green Belt operates in respect to openness and how it functions across its area. This would enable it to assess, in conjunction with local residents, priority areas for development, taking into account any local surveys carried out by the community. Any modifications to the Green Belt would therefore go through the more rigorous local plan process.
  • We reject proliferation of housing sites in the Green Belt in order to accommodate just starter homes, particularly where there may be significant environmental harm. Rural Exception sites are for low cost housing in perpetuity mainly for local residents and their families. However, it is likely they will be occupied mainly by inward migrants because local residents will not have the finance, even with the discount. 
  • We suggest that as this initiative could result in a loss of sites for low cost housing, the definition of rural exception sites be extended to also accommodate a proportion of other forms of affordable housing including starter homes, the relative numbers depending on local need and local support.
  •  We do not think that developers will be able to construct anything other than high density flats for £250,000 in Guildford which will be inappropriate in Green Belt locations.
  • It is disingenuous to expect those who live in rural villages within the Green Belt to accept new housing developments that completely change the character of their area, when to live in such an area removes certain planning opportunities to its residents.

Question 20.

Should planning policy be amended to allow redevelopment of brownfield sites for starter homes through a more flexible approach to assessing the impact on openness?

  • No. We object strongly to any threats of this type to the Green Belt. The fact that it is for starter homes does not make redevelopment of brownfield land any more acceptable. Policies on brownfield sites in the Green Belt should not be dealt with in the same way as brownfield land in urban locations.
  • We believe the changes proposed will result in unexpected consequences in the Green Belt. There is a perverse incentive to owners of commercial land in the Green Belt to close viable commercial operations that are a source of rural employment and put forward their site for either starter homes or affordable housing development. 
  • We oppose any revision to the NPPF that allows ‘islands’ of housing (starter or affordable by any criteria) to appear in the Green Belt on previously developed land because the opportunity exists for LPAs to ‘inset’ and then build out into the Green Belt using the ‘urban extension’ argument during Local Plan revisions where the option to redraw Green Belt boundaries where ‘exceptional circumstances’ are proposed and approved by PINS. This will lead to the long-term deterioration of the Green Belt into a patchwork of commuter ‘islands’, leading to a loss of ‘openness’ of the Green Belt, with new settlements accessible only by car, increasing rural air pollution, rural congestion, damaging contiguous areas of wildlife habitat.
  • We propose the specific exclusion of garden centres in the Green Belt from any definition of what constitutes ‘brownfield’ land in the Green Belt. Garden centres are horticultural businesses that address rural employment objectives and attract visitors to further stimulate the rural economy.

Question 21.

We would welcome your views on our proposed transitional arrangements.

  • We support the ability to carry out a partial review of adopted plans. However, it is not clear how the fast track approach/transitional measures will be implemented and the effect this will have on public consultation and the EIP process. We consider that 6 months is too short if local authorities have to consider how the plan will be amended plus public involvement in the process. Even 12 months seems restrictive as authorities will be dependent on Planning Inspectorate for an early EIP and Inspector’s report.
  • The proposals will obviously introduce more complexity into the local plan process so we do not accept that it will not add to the local authority’s burden.
  • We do not see how local authorities will be able to implement any new proposals on the lines set out in this document until the policies are included in an adopted local plan.

Question 22.

What are your views on the assumptions and data sources set out in this document to estimate the impact of the proposed changes? Is there any other evidence which you think we need to consider?

  • We are concerned at the implications of many of the assumptions currently proposed. For example

    o There is a danger that a significant proportion of starter homes will affect the rental sector. There is no data base to support the change in emphasis from low cost social renting housing/shared ownership initiatives and key worker requirements to starter homes.
    o There is no evidence on the viability of a £250,000 cap per dwelling in Guildford.
    o We are very concerned at the proposed relaxing of Green Belt policies both on  brownfield land and on exception sites

  • As the rate of planning permissions is double that of new build, we suggest that major changes to the planning system are not the solution to current problems of housing shortages for first time buyers.

Question 23.

Have you any other views on the implications of our proposed changes to national planning policy on people with protected characteristics as defined in the Equalities Act 2010? What evidence do you have on this matter?

  • We are concerned that with the likely decline in low cost housing for rent, the poorer sections of the community will be disadvantaged, particularly the elderly, women, and the disabled. 
  • First time buyers over 40 and those unable to afford the discounted market homes will also be marginalised. 

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