Planning inspectors overturned – in cases where there was no defined land supply – nearly three quarters of decisions by councils on applications for major housing developments on greenfield land between March 2012 and May 2014, according to research by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
The CPRE’s report, Targeting the countryside, said some 27,000 houses were granted planning permission in this way – amounting to 8.5% of all houses planned across the country over the period. The campaign group described the consequences as “catastrophic”.
The success rate of 72% on appeal for applications for a major housing development, and where the local planning authority did not have a five-year supply, compared to 35% for appeals overall.
Under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which was introduced in 2012, councils are required to demonstrate a five-year land supply for housing in an attempt to boost house building.
“Councils without a local plan are powerless to decide where developments should go in their area, but only 17.6% of councils have had plans approved by Government,” the CPRE said. “This is often due to the onerous criteria in constructing viable plans.
“Furthermore, those who have not managed to meet their targets face the punishment of finding an extra 20% of land as a ‘buffer’ to ensure ‘choice and competition’.”
Reasons identified by the CPRE report as to why local planning authorities found it very difficult to prove they had a five-year supply included:
- An inflexible focus on short-term housing targets “makes it difficult for councils to plan effectively for large sites which may have long lead-in times”.
- Current policy requires that ‘under delivery’ of housing in the past must be accommodated in the next five years. “This is regardless of the reasons for the ‘under delivery’; in some cases ‘under delivery’ is because past regional planning policies – agreed by local authorities and approved by Government – quite correctly sought to direct new housing away from greenfield land and towards brownfield sites in urban areas”.
- Current policy does not allow recent housebuilding rates to be taken into account, “leading to excessive requirements which councils cannot realistically meet, especially in areas where the housebuilding industry is still recovering from the recession”.
- Pressure from five-year supply requirements means greenfield land is increasingly being earmarked for housing, while viable, deliverable and sustainable sites with local support are overlooked. “Perversely, this situation is often exacerbated as councils who have struggled to meet housing targets are required by the NPPF to increase their five-year supply by 20%, as a ‘buffer’ to ‘ensure choice and competition in the market for land’.”
In two thirds of appeal decisions where the ‘buffer’ was mentioned, the maximum of 20% was applied.
The CPRE examined 309 planning appeal decisions across England between March 2012 and May 2014 where councils had rejected applications for developments of 10 or more houses on greenfield land.
The research also suggested that one in six local refusals was overturned by a planning inspector even when a council was found to be meeting its targets.
Amongst a series of recommendations, the CPRE called on the Government to amend paragraph 49 of the NPPF so that there is not an automatic presumption in favour of granting planning permission where the local authority is unable to demonstrate a five-year land supply. “It should also be made clear in these cases that developers should still be expected to meet local policy objectives, such as using brownfield sites before greenfield.”
The CPRE also urged the Government to:
- Immediately suspend the requirement in the NPPF to allocate an additional 20% ‘buffer’ of ‘deliverable’ housing sites “because it is exacerbating already unrealistic housing requirements”.
- Amend paragraph 14 of the NPPF so that meeting housing demand does not have greater weight than environmental and social sustainability in plan making and decision taking.
- Amend the NPPF to allow for a flexible approach to five-year housing supply in local authorities that can demonstrate they are promoting large scale, sustainable developments which will meet housing need in the longer term.
- Amend the NPPF to ensure that where an up to date Local or Neighbourhood Plan is in place, development of inappropriate and unallocated sites will not be permitted at appeal.
John Rowley, planning officer at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: “These figures show that current policy is encouraging unnecessary house building in the countryside against the wishes of local people. We need to see a more transparent and less punitive system which does not allow unrealistic housing targets to override local concerns.
He added: “We support the Government’s desire to simplify planning and meet the urgent need for new homes. Yet councils must be provided with detailed guidance on housing targets, and brownfield land must be prioritised so that unnecessary greenfield development is not so blatantly and regularly allowed through the back door.”