Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The housing conundrum

Andy Ward submitted a comment in response to my post on "Permitted development - office to residential". It goes well beyond the subject-matter of my original post, but nevertheless deserves an airing, and so I have decided to give it a post of its own.

Andy Ward writes: We know this idea of a change of use as Permitted Development from B1(a) to C3 has been kicking around since just after the election, but this still smacks of something thought about over a couple of pints and a bag of crisps last weekend; but something as important as supplying enough homes of the types people want and need requires more than this.

It's yet another sticking plaster solution to the chronic undersupply of housing in this country. New Homes Bonus has been a joke for a start - I'd love to see a statistic for how much of the money handed out under that scheme relates to dwellings approved before the New Homes Bonus came into effect or, for that matter, some statistics to see how New Homes Bonus relates (or doesn't) to any change in the housing supply figures in individual LPA areas. (Lots of LPAs I deal with - if not most - steadfastly refuse to take account of New Homes Bonus in their decision making!)

Slightly changing the subject, one league table I'd like to see is one for housing supply, since the majority of LPAs I come across don't have 5 years, and so many still seem to have trouble getting the calculation right. There are also plenty who still see a 5.1 year supply as an oversupply that must be corrected.

Let's also not forget the proportion of current supply being delivered as affordable housing - a successful overall housing supply would see the need for and supply of affordable housing diminishing, not growing.

Then there's the steadily increasing proportion of rented properties in the market. Yes, we need more rented properties per se, to increase choice and flexibility, but it remains the case that most people want to own their own home. (I don't hold much truck with those who say home ownership is a luxury and should not be pandered to, that rent is the way forward - let all those who think that be the first to give up their homes and rent for the rest of their lives.)

Sadly, I see no change for the next 5-10 years because the problem of anti-development sentiment is endemic and the politicians either refuse to recognise it or are afraid to deal with it. Hence, an undersupply of hundreds of thousands of houses is being tackled by trying to add a few thousand flats as a result of office conversions in the next 3 years.


[I see exactly what Andy means. However, so far as housing supply is concerned, the full force of the NPPF will be felt by LPAs from the end of next month, and those unable to demonstrate a 5-year (+) supply of housing land are going to lose appeals on unallocated sites. In fact, where an LPA has a record of under-delivery, they will be required to have not simply a 5% margin but a 20% margin (in effect a 6-year supply). Some inspectors are applying a robust approach to this issue when judging the soundness of Core Strategies, and LPAs who find themselves in this position may not be able to prevent the housing development they have been seeking to resist. - MHG]


  1. LPAs seeking to resist housing development? Perish the thought. The concept of demonstrable land supply is where the problems lie, the process should be fully transparent and carried out by independent professionals. Too many LPAs spend an inordinate amount of time trying to plug the gaps in land availability with flawed data, rubbish in, rubbish out as they say.

  2. Evan: yes, it should be open data on housing supply,as a well as a whole host of development statistics collected by Councils in general (ie. not just in their role as LPAal development.

    In fact, I'm a firm believer that in this information-driven internet-based age we live in that a failure to make certain information available in a clear and transparent manner on a website should reduce or negate entirely the validaty of any dependence a Council might place on a particular statistic and allied policies.

    So, in regard of the 5 year supply requirement, and as an example, I think the default poistion should be that an LPA doesn't have a 5 year supply if it hasn't clearly stated what that supply is on its website and doesn't have the information readily available that their stated figure is based on.

    To be clear, this should not be about requesting the information: it should be there to download without question.

    I could go on with more detail and more examples, but you hopefully get where I'm coming from (even if you might not agree).

    Development is a right, not a privilege. When that right is restricted in the public interest through the planning system then every facet of the justification for that restriction should be in the public realm from the start.

  3. and just today my local authority A (4 yr supply and reducing in north wales) is taking a recently refused (on officer recommendation) application now waiting for an inquiry date back to committee advising members not to contest the pending inquiry as it lost an appeal on same grounds within the last month on a site in same settlement. As officers sat defending first appeal vigorously at that inquiry, every single consultancy planner there just knew, KNEW this would be allowed on land supply grounds and as the next available site adjacent to the settlement boundary.. so why on earth fight it?

    Perhaps its time that LGov officers and elected members became personally liable for some of the costs borne from fighting appeals and from delays to development in cases like this. It certainly would give a short sharp lesson into commercial reality and the 12 month delay now faced to providing housing.

    and @ Andy Ward - are you the same Andy Ward who was @ Newcastle UNI 1987-92? if so hi from Pete Lloyd

  4. Completely agree with all of the comments / suggestions above.

    I am hoping that following the Taylor Review of Goverment Practice Guidance, we will see a new dedicated housing land supply guidance document - which very clearly sets out how LPA's should be calculating their housing supply in light of the NPPF.

    The differing approaches taken by LPA's in calculating housing supply is frankly a joke. My experience is that the need to demonstrate a 5 year supply is increasingly becoming a political tool used by Members to try and 'defend' against greenfield developments. In otherwords, inclduing sites within the 5 year deliverable supply which other authorities (and the Inspectorate) would certainly not dare include. Cheshire East Council is a prime example of this (they have swung from a circa 3.5 year supply to a circa 7.5 year supply by including a huge proportion of completely undeliverable unconsented / unallocated sites).

  5. If councils take the approach that Jonathan Bloor has identified (and I entirely agree with his analysis) then we can expect a number of successful legal challenges to core strategies, such as the recent quashing of the North Somerset core strategy.

  6. ^ Do you think the legal challenges would succeed though? Personally I feel like they'd struggle a bit to get any traction through legal avenues. It's often a long, bloated process.

  7. I assume that Gary’s remark is in response to the last comment. There have been one or two cases where core strategies have been ‘rubber stamped’ by inspectors when they were clearly unsound, and there have already been one or two successful High Court challenges as a result. In other cases, inspectors have taken a more robust approach, the usual practice being for the inspector to warn the LPA that their core strategy is liable to be found not to be sound, and giving them the opportunity to suspend it while they go away and find some more housing land to meet the NPPF requirement.

    The larger housebuilders have the resources and the determination to fight on this issue, and so are unlikely to be deterred by the legal process or the expense. From their point of view, the costs are not prohibitive, and the time frame is acceptable, bearing in mind that their aim is to secure strategic land so as to maintain a sufficient land bank for their future building programme.

    Reverting to the original theme of this post, the long-awaited changes to the GPDO allowing change of use from offices to residential use were laid before parliament on 9 May and come into effect on 30 May. I hope to post an item on these new rules shortly.