Greenfield housing developers are manipulating the opportunities opened by the requirement for councils to maintain a five-year land supply by banking permissions, making slow starts on them, then demanding new sites be released as these are not “deliverable”, MPs have heard.
In the latest of a very long line of Westminster Hall debates secured by Conservative back-benchers to criticise the Government’s promotion of greenfield sprawl, Romsey and Southampton North MP Caroline Nokes set out the damage being done to her constituency by this practice.
The MP “requested this debate specifically about housing land supply and local authorities’ difficulties in seeking to uphold robust and well-considered planning policies in the face of repeated and determined speculative applications by developers, who are consistently using the requirement for a five-year housing land supply to their own advantage, rather than to the advantage of local residents and would-be home owners.”
She compared the practice to taking a slice out of a cake then moving on to another, ruining the whole cake and satisfying nobody’s appetites. “This is not good planning,” she said. “It is not plan-led, but led by speculation and greed, helping only the developers, and certainly not those seeking to buy their own homes in this desirable part of the country.” She said that, for four years, developments in Test Valley Borough Council’s area had been justified on the basis of its lack of a “deliverable five-year supply” and the supposed ability of yet another site to make up the shortfall.
But if all the unused permissions across the south of the borough were to be built up, there would be over seven years’ supply.
“The housing land supply figures are too easily influenced by developers simply either changing their forecasts on permitted sites or not bringing sites forward at all, or else not as quickly as was forecast,” she said. She cited numerous examples and other Hampshire MPs queued up to confirm the problem.
But planning minister Brandon Lewis …. proved as impervious to these criticisms as his predecessors and spent a long time reiterating the Government’s defences of its planning policies.
Eventually he conceded he had met Test Valley to discuss its concerns but said many factors influence when a development is started including finance, market conditions and legal constraints.
“In the main, however, I would hope that a developer that commits to building out at a particular rate will do so,” he said and urged councils to keep delivery under review in their monitoring. He claimed they do have opportunities to intervene at various stages, in plan making they can consider developers’ delivery record and previous permissions. But they should review their five-year supply every year.
Mr Lewis also rejected Ms Nokes’ suggestion for a review of criteria for green belt designation. He claimed the Government attaches the “highest importance” to protecting green belts but designating them should be a local decision in local plans.
“I appreciate the challenge for an area such as Hampshire, and I am sure my hon. friend will continue to make representations to us, but we want to avoid urban sprawl,” he said. “Despite my hon. friend’s concerns about protecting our beautiful villages and the countryside in her constituency, designating land as green belt is not necessarily the way forward in this instance, although I am happy for her to make further representations herself or through her local authority in the future.”
Source: Hansard 19 Nov 2014 : Column 101WH