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Agenda item

Consultation on Changes to Planning Policy and Regulations

Summary:

 

To consider a response to the Government Consultation on Changes to the Current Planning System.

 

Recommendation:

 

That the responses to the questions set out in Appendix B to the report should form the Council’s response to the Government Consultation on Changes to the Current Planning System.

Minutes:

The Planning Policy Manager presented a report which detailed the Council’s proposed response to the Government consultation on Changes to the Current Planning System due to end on 1st October 2020. The report explained that whilst the proposed changes were considered to be technical they could be introduced very quickly by way of amendment to the national Planning Policy Guidance and would not require legislation and the impact of the changes on Dartford and other authorities could be significant.

 

There were four parts to the document:

 

·         Changes to the standard method for assessing minimum housing numbers in strategic plans. This change was proposed because the existing methodology was not delivering the government target for building 300,000 homes pa. The current methodology for identifying the minimum number of homes to be planned in each borough, which included a cap on any increase, was explained. The Government’s revised methodology for calculating the target figure was explained and the Government also proposed removing the cap. Using the proposed approach Dartford would have to plan for 1,441 new homes pa, double the current requirement, which it was felt would represent a sudden and substantial increase and would be wholly unrealistic. It would also unfairly punish those authorities like Dartford that had delivered on their housing needs, result in further in-migration to the Borough and result in a spiral of ever increasing housing projection figures. The Council’s proposed response very strongly objected to the changes, setting out a clear rationale and data demonstrating that the Government’s revised approach is not an effective, fair or sustainable methodology from which to derive a baseline target for housing. The response also suggested that instead the baseline figure should be established as 1.25% pa of the existing housing stock which would deliver more than the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes pa.

 

·         The report also detailed proposals for delivering ‘First Homes’, intended for first time buyers at a discount of at least 30% below market value and that a minimum of 25% of all affordable housing should be First Homes. Whilst the Council had no objection to First Homes per se it would not want this to endanger the provision of affordable rented housing, which was needed in the Borough.

 

·         The report described plans to support small and medium-sized developers by reducing the amount of affordable housing they would need to deliver through new planning permissions for 18 months by raising the threshold at which developers would be required to provide affordable housing on a site from 10 to 40 or 50 homes. This could impact adversely on the delivery of affordable housing, particularly if developers sought to gain and bank planning permissions or if this became a permanent change.

 

·         Finally the Government was proposing extending the permission in principle consent regime to allow developers to apply for in principle permission for major housing-led development (where an Environmental Impact Assessment or Habitats Regulations Assessment were not required). This could however result in developers obtaining in-principle decisions to redevelop town centre sites and could result in developers seeking to construct higher buildings than might otherwise be deemed appropriate under the second stage technical details consent.

 

The Chairman highlighted the significant implications for Dartford and unfairness of the proposed change to the methodology for establishing a baseline target for house building for authorities like Dartford that had effectively managed housing growth and delivered on housing need. He noted that the Government was seeking to introduce a national algorithm to address under delivery by other local authorities that had resulted in the Government’s overall target for house building not being achieved but that applying a national algorithm would have severe implications for authorities at the extremes of the calculations, which would include Dartford. He suggested  that the Government should be looking at exemplar authorities like Dartford and trying to replicate that success in other areas and that Dartford was not prepared to accept a changed methodology which would adversely affect the borough by resulting in greater housing density and lower quality. He welcomed the strong support from Cabinet Advisory Panel A for the proposed response to the consultation and thanked officers for the report. At a political level he intended that the Council would make its views clear to the Government beyond the level of the consultation response and he was of the opinion that the Government was moving to an appreciation that it would need to reconsider the methodology. 

 

The Cabinet noted the implications for Dartford and for other authorities in Kent and that the Leader of Kent County Council and MP’s across Kent were also lobbying the Government for a fairer system. The Deputy Leader also questioned where the increased number of houses could actually be built if the new target had to be met.  The Portfolio Holder for Finance questioned the wisdom of basing future projections on past assumptions given the enormous impact of the coronavirus pandemic on working arrangements and the impact that this could have for future housing demand in commuter towns such as Dartford. The Chairman agreed that working patterns were likely to change permanently but felt that demand for housing would always be high in Dartford because the borough was an attractive place to live and work but that this demand had to be met in a well-planned and delivered manner, which was currently being achieved through the Council’s existing Local Plan. He felt that the proposed methodology was flawed and build on unrealistic premises that could generate extreme targets. He felt that the Government would reconsider the methodology and assumptions and either change the algorithm or recognise the need to revise targets in areas where the targets were extreme and unrealistic.

 

 

 

 

 

            RESOLVED:

 

That the responses to the questions, set out in Appendix B to the report, form the Council’s response to the Government’s Consultation on Changes to the Current Planning System.

Supporting documents: