Planning Inspector give his early findings on Cornwall’s Local Plan

The Inspector who has been tasked with looking at Cornwall Council’s local plan has given his initial thoughts, officially called ‘Schedule of Post Hearing Changes for Consultation’ on the resubmitted plan. Previously, the inspector said our housing numbers was too small and needed to be increased to take into consideration dwelling not in full-time use, i.e. second homes and those in the churn of selling/probate.

The main key message is the Inspector is happy with the overall target of 52,500 dwellings However, to be clear over 22,000 already with permission and 11,500 already built which leaves around 30,500 yet to come forward. This figure was proposed by Cornwall Council in December.

I must point out this being a minimum figure in line with the NPPF. However, the good news is on the basis of the figure of 52,500 the Council believes it can now demonstrate a 5 year land supply

Another of the Inspector’s key change is to redistribute 300 dwellings from the allowance during this plan period for the Eco-Community at West Carclaze to the built area of St Austell. This is a response to reflect past development of the town in the adjoining Community Network Area and consideration of past delivery rates. This also includes a need to review the delivery of the Eco community if there is no progress within two years of the Plans adoption

The other changes include the threshold for negotiation for affordable housing has been brought into line with the Ministerial statement and upcoming national guidance i.e. above 10 units generally and over 5 units in designated rural areas and the AONB.

The next stage of the plans journey is the proposed changes will be published for consultation probably at the end of June for a six-week period with responses provided to the Inspector for his further consideration. Unless he considers there are any new issues raised about the proposed changes (he is not looking at the whole plan) he will issue his final report and recommendations to the Council towards the end of September.

The Plan and the inspector’s recommendations would then be presented to full Council ultimately to decide if it is happy to accept his proposed changes /recommendations and so move towards formally adopting the Plan or does not wish to proceed to adoption.

If we do not adopt a plan, we leaves ourselves open to not being able to show a five-year land supply and far worse, the Government imposing a plan on Cornwall.

Porthleven Neighbourhood Plan questionnaire – have your say, not moan about it later

The team working on the Porthleven Neighbourhood Plan have released a second questionnaire asking residents a series of question that includes housing numbers, landscape assessments and renewable energy ideas.

The information collected in the questionnaires will feed into the overall Neighbourhood Plan for Porthleven.

This questionnaire follows on from the previous one where 662 people responded. A summary of this previous questionnaire showed that:

  • The environment in and around Porthleven is important to people;
  • Porthleven needs additional facilities for young people;
  • Community is important to the people of Porthleven;
  • Portheven needs more affordable housing.

Below is a map of land around Porthleven which has been assessed as the most and least suitable for any potential development.


The questionnaire can be completed in two  ways; online, and the pen and paper approach. Every household in Porthleven will have a questionnaire  delivered through their door. There will also be hard copies of the questionnaire available

Each person in the household can and really should complete a questionnaire. After all, we want everyone’s view, no matter how old or young you are.

The deadline for returning the questionnaire is the 22nd July 2016.

The online version can be found HERE.

As I said in the title, I urge you to complete the questionnaire. If we do not have a robust and evidenced based plan, Porthleven is at the mercy of the planning system, Government whims on housing numbers, and give greater protection to areas which we want to see no development on.

By having a Neighbourhood Plan, Porthleven can influence where planning takes place and in what numbers.

Changes to Cornwall’s Local Plan overwhelmingly approved

Sometimes it feels like we are going round and round on the Local Plan merry-go-round, stopping now and again for small and large changes to the plan. Today, at the meeting of full council, councillors debated the changes to the plan as directed by the Planning Inspector.

Many will not like the changes to the plan, or like the plan at all. However, without a plan, Cornwall is at more risk because it cannot prove there is adequate housing number for five-years. Furthermore, if the Council cannot agree a plan, the Government will impose on the Council in 2017. If that happened, the Council would have limited say on the housing numbers.

For those who have not read the plan, or the changes, HERE is the link to the documentation.

Many councillor spoke during the debate, mostly repeating what has been said before. For those who may have missed the Local Plan debate, HERE are previous blogs on the subject. I raise the subject on the Government needs to make sure funding for school expansions in light of new housing follows. Sadly, this does not always happen.

There was an amendment put forward by Dick Cole, for the removal of the housing allocation for the Eco-town. This totals 1200 dwellings. However, the flaw to this plan was other areas in Cornwall, mostly St. Austell’s Community Network Area would have to find the shortfall of 1200. It is no surprise this amendment was lost, with only four councillors voting in favour.

As for the main vote, this was carried by all but two councillors who voted against, and one who abstained.

The next stage of the plan’s journey will be subject to a public consultation lasting for six-weeks starting in January. From this, the plan will be re-submitted to the Planning Inspector for him to hopefully approve.

Cornwall’s Local Plan housing number set to be 52,500

The saga that is the Cornwall Local Plan (2010 – 2030) continues to rumble on. The Local Plan is it is suspended after the Planning Inspector at a public Examination said in his recommendations that the current housing numbers was too low. This was after months of debate on the numbers, with numbers ranging from 16,000 to 50,000. Prior to the Examination, the Council by a vote at full council settled on 47,000 homes between 2010 and 2030.

If the Council wants a Local Plan to be approved it cannot ignore the inspector, and therefore his direction was for the Local Plan housing numbers to be increased by 10%. This is further broken-down by 7% to take into account second homes, and 3% what is called churn, ie, those for sale, in probate and not in occupation. The figure the Council is looking like settling on is 52,500.

Now before people jump up and say where are you going to put 52,500 or where is the need for this number, I will explain this is not for another 52,500 houses in Cornwall. This number takes into account the 36,500 that have either been built, or have planning permission to be built since 2010. That means the Local Plan will require a further 16,000 to be built between 2010 and 2030. It is important to highlight this true number of new planning permission being approved, and not the overall target number.

At yesterday’s the Planning Policy Meeting, the committee agreed with reservations, the number of 52,500. There is angst amongst the committee members that this figure is a minimum, and not a maximum. However, when setting a minimum, you at least have a chance of refusing anything over this number if your Local Plan number is robust and backed up with evidence.

Arguing about settling on a lower figure is pointless after the Inspector has given clear guidance on what he expects to be a target. If the Council did set a lower target, then our plan would not be adopted. This would mean we could not prove a five-year land supply and therefore, any development would be approved as the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is clear with a Local Plan having to have a five-year land supply.

On the point of 7% for holiday homes/lets, this is not meaning 7% will be built for holiday homes/lets. This percentage is to take into account those home that have been built or will be built during the lifetime of the plan will not all end up as full-time occupation homes. Therefore, the inspector has said Cornwall’s plan must take this into account in the Local Plan. I do not like it, but this was a direction from the inspector, which imposible to ignore.

How will those numbers will be shared around Cornwall?  It is easier to give you the LINK to the actual numbers at page 42. However, for Helston, and the wider Community Network Area (CNA) which Porthleven rests in, the numbers are:

Helston:

  • 900 (old number), 1,200 (new number)
  • Completed or existing commitments since 2010 – 445
  • Remaining requirement for the plan between 2010 and 2030 – 755 (417 old target)

CNA area

  • 1,100 (requirement)
  • Completed or existing commitments since 2010 – 831
  • Remaining requirements 269

In Porthleven’s case, and working on a pro-rata distribution – as worked out by planning officers – would see a requirement for 81 additional dwellings in Porthleven. This is worked out from a target of 196, but with 113 already being built since 2010. The 113 includes the housing numbers from Trivisker and Shrubberies. The work on where, how and when these 81 homes will be delivered is something the Porthleven Neighbourhood Plan is working on.

The Local Plan is not only about housing numbers, but also includes economic growth and jobs. In the plan, there is a provision of 38,000 FTE jobs and employment space for 700,000m2. Like the housing numbers, these numbers take into account 10,000 FTE and 425,000m2.

On the subject of the percentage of affordable housing contained within the plan, I am disappointed with the percentage changes for Porthleven and Helston. I have always worked on both settlements having at minimum of 40% ratio of affordable. However, these figures have been reduced to 30% for Porthleven, and 25% for Helston. The reason is because the inspector said it could not be evidenced.

If you are looking at other neighbouring LA’s  their figures in either adopted or plans going through the inspections all have percentage figures of around 25%, a few have percentages as low at 10%.  So if you want your plan accepted with a higher affordable housing ratio, you will not unless you have robust evidence.

Though this is further complicated with the Government formula on what type of affordable a house is. As different types can mean different percentages of affordable.

Affordable housing (take the point on what is affordable) is needed in both settlement. Yet this new revised percentage number actually harms the aims of having more affordable houses. I do take the point, and it is worth highlighting when wanting higher affordable figure is no Section 106 for infrastructure like roads, open space contribution, and educational contribution can be sought. So you must have a balance on the right ratio of affordability, or else create another problem.

Many will not like certain aspects of the Local Plan, including me, but the Government has been crystal clear that if a local authority does not have a Local Plan, the Government will impose one on the LA and the figure they come up with is the one you are stuck with. I can tell you the figure will not be lower than the one currently (grudgingly) accepted by the Council.

From the PAC recommendation, the next stage will be for the Cabinet to give its backing, and finally, it goes to full council on the 15th December to make the final decision.

 

Cornwall Council helps to win a Judicial Review on the threshold for affordable housings

Planning is a roller coaster ride of emotions, no matter which side of the fence you sit on. There is a feeling with councillors and the public that the Government has deregulated planning policy so much that the system favours the developer.

I highlighted a huge concern in a previous Blog on the thresholds for affordable housing and how changes to the rule would affect the desirability of affordable housing.  So much so joined a Judical Review by providing evidence in support of a JR brought by West Berkshire Council and Reading Borough Council.

The changes to the policy would have stopped any contributions either financially or by means of a percentage of affordable housing will be sought from developments of 10 or less.  In Cornwall 26% of previous permissions were on sites under 10 units.

The good news is this Judical Review was successful and following the successful challenge the Government has now removed those new limits from national planning policy guidance. This judgement means that the affordable housing threshold reverts to 2 rather than 10.

 

Is the new Government planning exception policy for Starter Homes a Trojan Horse?

We all know buying an open market house has for many become unaffordable, especially those first time buyers.  Therefore I can see that a policy on helping fist time buyers looks like a good idea. The Government realises this, and has recently published a new policy on Starter Homes exception sites.

You may wonder what is a Starter Home? The new policy states it as:

A Starter Home is expected to be well designed and suitable for young first time buyers. Local planning authorities and developers should work together to determine what size and type of Starter Home is most appropriate for a particular Starter Home exemption site reflecting their knowledge of local housing markets and sites. A Starter Home is not expected to be priced after the discount significantly more than the average price paid by a first time buyer. This would mean the discounted price should be no more than £250,000 outside London and £450,000 in London.

To qualify for such a home, an application needs to be under 40 years old, and has not been a homeowner before. The latter is a pretty wide net too. Though I wonder how former members of the Armed Services who have served their full term – 22 years and would be over 40 – and who either like in single or married accommodation could apply for one. Might be a small point, but maybe the policy could have just said ‘ not been a homeowner previously.’

This exception policy would set a newly built house on the exception site at 20% under the market average for the area. This is to be welcomed due to the affordability of housing in many areas including Cornwall. But from reading the policy I do have some serious reservations on this policy

The first reservation I have is local planning authorities should not seek section 106 affordable housing contributions, including any tariff-based contributions to general infrastructure pots, from developments of Starter Homes. Though planning authorities will still be able to seek other section 106 contributions to mitigate the impact of development to make it acceptable in planning terms, including addressing any necessary infrastructure. What this means is the planning authority cannot seek an education, or open space contribution, nor will be have any social rental.

The Start Homes exception sites are expected to be on land that has been in commercial or industrial use, and which has not currently been identified for residential development. Furthermore, suitable sites are likely to be under-used or no longer viable for commercial or industrial purposes, but with remediation and infrastructure costs that are not too great so as to render Starter Homes financially unviable. This means housing – abet discounted by 20% – could be built on sites that either site outside of the Local Plan and /or a town or parishes neighbourhood Plan.

If an application has local resistance there seems little way of stopping the application as the policy states the application should be approved unless the local planning authority can demonstrate that there are overriding conflicts with the National Planning Policy Framework that cannot be mitigated. As the NPPF is pro-development, I see little way an application can be stopped.

As these type of homes will come forward as windfall sites, and therefore, local planning authorities should not make an allowance for them in their five-year housing land supply. This means of resisting a site on the five-year land supply argument cannot be used. And lastly, the new policy will allow a small percentage of open market houses on the site. The discretion on whether to allow open market development will rest with the LA.  As to the definition of what is small, this is not specified in the new policy document, and your small could be my big.

I am supportive of local low-cost needs housing, especially social rental. However I can see this policy being used to develop areas outside of the Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans. I know 20% is better than nothing, but I also know currently discounted sales are set at 50% less the local average. So there could be a clear incentive to develop this type of housing over other types. I guess time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Cornwall Council’s Local Plan is submitted for examination to the Sec of State.

After years of work,  Cornwall Council’s Local Plan has now been submitted to the Sec of State, Mr Pickles for examination. I for one is really pleased this has now been submitted, as this will give the Council more powers where development should take place. Furthermore, by having an adopted Local Plan will in turn allow local communities who are in the process of putting together their neighbourhood plans the vehicle to have these adopted too.

The submitted Plan is made up of the ‘Proposed Submission Local Plan – Strategic Policies’ published in March 2014 together with a series of amendments published in September 2014 as the ‘Schedule of focussed changes to the Cornwall Local Plan – Strategic Policies’. The full set of ‘submission documents’ along with the complete evidence base will be available by visiting www.cornwall.gov.uk/localplancornwall.

The public examination will take place on the 11th may 2015 where the various sides will be able to put their cases forward. From this, and depending on the formal responses on the examination, Cornwall could have its Local Plan adopted by the end of 2015.

Governments planning policy harms affordable housing

At the end of 2014, the Government made a change to the housing policy framework. The aim of the change was to support small developers in bringing forward developments. The changes have a impact to financial payments to infrastructure and affordable housing.  Currently, under Cornwall’s draft Local Plan, the Council seeks either a financial contribution or element of affordable housing on schemes of two or more new units.

The kicker in this change of policy is no contributions either financially or by means of a percentage of affordable housing will be sought from developments of 10 or less.  This is not good for community that wish to support small scale development that have an element of affordable housing. However, the new guidance does – and its a small saving grace to the change – allow Cornwall Council in AONB’s, National Parks and areas designated under the Housing Act can choose to reduce the threshold to five – something I believe Cornwall Council should do.  So in those areas developers would be asked to make a financial contribution between six and ten. So those areas are not hit as bad.

It is not just future developments that will be affected, but those who have had planning already granted.  At the time of writing Cornwall Council has around £2.2m worth of contributions towards affordable housing with schemes fewer than ten units. If a developer came back to renegotiate or even submit an amended plan, then these contributions could be at risk. It is hard to tell the extent of the impact, but in Cornwall there are 4000 units with planning permission on sites fewer than ten units and of the 4000, 3,200 are on sites with fewer than five units.

Unless the Government rows-back on this change, or is forced to change by means of a Judicial Review, this new policy will have a huge impact on affordable housing in Cornwall. And we already know the cost of housing is high, and without an affordable element, could make the housing crisis in Cornwall a lot worse.

Cornwall Council supports submission of the Local Plan to the Secretary of State

And there it is, after many years of work, discussion, argument and counter argument, the elected Members of Cornwall Council voted in favour to support the submission of the Strategic Policies element of the Local Plan to the Secretary of State. These policies are an important first part of the Local Plan and gives the flexibility that encourages Neighbourhood Plans- an important part of localism.

The actual vote was 76 in favour, 19 against, with five Councillors abstaining. 23 Councillors were missing from the vote.

In this plan, the Council will be able to demonstrate a five-year land supply. This is very important as inspectors are giving limited weight to a plan and with no agreed five-year land supply. This leaves the Council vulnerable to planning appeals, and the Council cannot remain vulnerable to planning by appeal. Developers know this, and can overturn a Council decision by mounting a strong appeal using expensive experts to put across their cases. Furthermore, without a Local Plan the Council is heavily reliant on old saved policies that have to be compliant with the National Planning Policy Framework to be applicable. In the case of the former Kerrier area, where there are no saved policies, there is sole reliance on the NPPF.

The number of housing has been the biggest single issue in formulating the Local Plan. The Planning Minister and guidance (ie the Government) in the NPPF, have said it is up to Council to set their own housing targets evidence, however, the Government have made is crystal clear the housing number target has to be based on sound evidence. This evidence comes from the projections from the Office of National Statistics in the Strategic Housing Market Need Assessment. The SHMNA has then moderated these downwards to appropriately reflect the downward trend in household formation and the 2011 census.

This evidence in the Council’s submission says 47,500 can be supported, and importantly gives the much-needed five-year land supply.  As I said before, this is important in any submission, especially if you want your plan approved. Using figures from April 2014, shows that Cornwall already have about 29,000 (28,762) commitments, including around 10,000 (8,754) that have already been built since 2010. This leaves a balance of 18,500 (18,738) more to find over the next 15 years

I am glad the plan has now been approved because having no plan would be a disaster for Cornwall and would leave Cornwall at the mercy of developers. This plan will wrestle back control of development from developers and put it back in the hands of a community through Neighbourhood Plans.

 

Local Plan approved by Cabinet

At the recent Extraordinary Cabinet, the Local Plan  or to give it its full title The Cornwall Local Plan – Strategic Policies (formerly known as the Core Strategy), which will guide planning for the next 15 years in Cornwall was debated and approved by the Cabinet. This plan has been a long time coming due to the complexities surrounding a planning document of this nature. It has not been an easy ride, as many people have a view on the actual number of housing required in the next 15 years. However, without a plan, it would be difficult to have a say where developer should build and have some sort of balance on the numbers of housing that can be built.

The full range of suggested housing targets is from 29,000 to 74,500. These suggested figures is in part from 44 representations on housing numbers from three rounds of consultation since 2011. The final figure which has been agreed on is 47,500, and this is the number which will be submitted as part of the plan. The 47,500 is not all new builds as it takes into consideration housing that already has been given  planning permission. The actual figure of ‘new’ builds will be 18,662. How these new builds will be split is on the image at the bottom of the page.

I have often heard this Local Plan will ‘concrete’ over Cornwall. However, this is far from true, as currently roughly 1% of Cornwall has development and if all the planned dwellings are built, this percentage will raise to 1.5%. That is hardly a concreting over Cornwall.

I also welcome the approval of this plan as without the approval, those town and parishes who are in the process of formulating their neighbourhood plan could not progress with out the Local Plan. These neighborhood plans are key to town and parishes deciding what happens to their communities for the next 15 years.

Now the Cabinet has approved the plan, it will be the turn of the full membership of the Council to give the final seal of approval in December before it then goes through the formal process of the inspectors etc before hopefully being adopted. With no Local Plan, Cornwall would find itself in a difficult position and open to unrestircted development.

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