We have finally seen the demise of the East of England Plan by virtue of the Regional Strategy for the East of England (Revocation) Order 2012 SI 2012/3046. This Order also revokes any directions preserving policies in old Structure Plans. The Order was made on 6th December and came into force on 3rd January 2013.
This has prompted me to ask myself the rhetorical question, so where does this leave LPA’s and will they manage in practice. To put it in another way, can they cope without some diktats from above. Remember LPA’s in the past were given housing numbers either via a County Structure Plan or the Regional Strategy. Whilst local Members may not have necessarily liked being told from above what to do, it provided a degree of independent assessment and forced many local planning authorities to allow growth within their districts. No doubt there were also many relieved Planning Officers within LPA’s as it avoided them in having to convince their Members that additional housing provision should be made.
The revocation of Regional Strategies has been on the “block” for some years. There is no need to go back over the history with Mr Pickles attempts to revoke regional strategies. His intention nevertheless was clear when the Localism Bill was introduced and subsequently passed by Parliament. This, it appears, left some local authorities believing that matters were now very much up to them and they could perhaps determine future housing numbers. Indeed a number stopped work on their Emerging Core Strategies and/or Local Plans, which were promulgated on the housing numbers provided for in the then Emerging Regional Spatial Strategy. It is therefore I think worth asking oneself now to what extent do LPA’s have real freedom.
We have since the pass of the Localism Act also received the NPPF. Does this really give the LPA’s the freedom which they thought perhaps they were being granted.
I quote from a few passages of the NPPF in respect of housing numbers as follows:-
(i) Para 47 seeks to boost significantly the supply of housing and provides that local planning authorities should “use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area etc”. The underlining is mine.
(ii) Para 159 states that local planning authorities should have a clear understanding of housing needs in their area and that they should “prepare a Strategic Housing Market Assessment to assess their full housing needs, working with neighbouring authorities where housing market areas cross administrative boundaries”.
(iii) Para 156 requires local planning authorities to set out the strategic priorities for the area in their Local Planning including strategic policies to deliver “the homes and jobs needed in the area”.
(iv) Finally para 182 provides that Local Plans must amongst other things be positively prepared, which means that they are based on a strategy which seeks to meet objectively assessed development and infrastructure requirements “including unmet requirements from neighbouring authorities where it is reasonable to do so etc”.
Para 182 also makes it abundantly clear that to be sound a local Plan must amongst other things be consistent with National Policy i.e. the NPPF. If therefore it does not seek to objectively meet housing need as clearly stated in paras 47, 156 and 159, then there must surely be a real risk that those plans will be found unsound.
The assessment of the objective need must surely be a matter for professional experts. It is not something which can be properly or should be determined by lay members. It must therefore surely follow that whilst under Localism many Members at LPA’s thought that they had been given freedom, is that the reality of the situation. I suspect that it is not, given the NPPF matters do not end here.
I learn on the grapevine that some LPA’s are intending to produce Local Plans which do not provide for all the objectively assessed need by their strategic market housing assessments. In the light of what I have said above, I believe they do so at their peril.
In addition one planning consultant suggested to me that the way to get round this problem was to ask one’s neighbour to make additional provision i.e. to provide for you as well. This is recognised as a possibility in para 182 but is it reality. Will one planning authority be willing to make additional provision to meet the needs of its neighbour? Of course there is a legal duty now to co-operate with one’s neighbour but this does not necessarily mean to agree. When therefore would one local planning authority be obliged as a matter of law to meet the requirements of another. I don’t seek to answer that question but to leave it open.
Generally, whilst this Government have always been keen to move from top down planning to bottom up as such, in these difficult economic times have they got it right or will we eventually move back to some central control, if only at County level. We can but only wait and see. There are interesting times ahead.
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