Planning Permission and Housing Need: Wealden

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 11:17 am on 1st March 2022.

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Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Minister for Housing) 11:17 am, 1st March 2022

It is a pleasure to serve, for my first time in this role, under your chairmanship, Ms Bardell. I thank my hon. Friend Ms Ghani for securing this important debate and my hon. Friend Caroline Ansell for her interventions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden described her constituency as a beautiful area and listed the many communities that make it a unique place to live. I was particularly interested to hear about the Wealden heroes, and I think we all want to say thank you to our constituents, up and down the country, who have done so much during the pandemic to help those who needed support.

My hon. Friend is an assiduous Member on this important issue of building the houses we need in a way that gets the community behind it. I was interested in the debate between my two hon. Friends, which demonstrated clearly and visually the difficulties I will face in my role, with contrasting viewpoints about how to deliver these houses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden will know that, due to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s quasi-judicial role in the planning system, I am unable to comment on the merits of a specific plan, but I can provide some general comments. Having an effective, up-to-date plan in place is essential to planning for and meeting housing requirements. Each plan is subject to a public examination in front of an independent inspector who examines plans impartially to ensure that they are legally compliant and sound.

Getting an up-to-date plan in place, backed by evidence and produced with community involvement, will stand local planning authorities in good stead in determining planning applications and at any appeal. To get enough homes built in the places where people and communities need them, a crucial first step is to plan for the right number of homes. That is why, in 2018, we introduced a standard method for assessing local housing need, to make the process of identifying the number of homes needed in an area simple, quick and transparent. The standard method shows the number of homes needed in a local planning authority and is the first step in deciding how many homes an area should plan for.

To help enable the country to deliver 300,000 homes a year, in December 2020 we changed the formula to increase the need by 35% in 20 of our most populated urban areas to maximise use of existing infrastructure and to support development that reduces the need for high-carbon travel. All other local authorities in England, including Wealden, saw no change compared to the previous method, so, in effect, continued to calculate their local housing need in the same way.

Following the 2020 consultation, the Government concluded that the 2014-based projections would continue to be used to calculate housing targets. Household projections are not just a measure of how many houses are needed to meet demand; the ONS has been clear that lower household projections do not necessarily mean fewer homes needing to be built. The standard method is used by councils as a guide when they develop their local plans. That means that councils decide their own housing requirement once they have their local need, with the expectation that the inspector should also consider the local circumstances and the constraints that really matter to local people. The council should also consider working with neighbouring authorities if it would be more appropriate for the needs to be met elsewhere.

I want to add that I know that Councillor Standley and Councillor Newton of Wealden District Council are doing their utmost to deliver the homes they need for their areas, and I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden that the Department will continue to support the work of her council, now and into the future.

Building the homes this country needs is at the heart of the Government’s commitment to levelling up across the United Kingdom. The planning policy framework still expects local authorities to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply against the housing requirement. Therefore, following consultations with communities, local authorities need to get a local plan in place and allocate appropriate sites. When a local authority finds itself unable to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply and engages the presumption in favour of sustainable development, that does not mean that planning permission is automatically granted. Each case is considered on its merits, and only planning matters may be taken into consideration. When any adverse impacts of granting approval would significantly or demonstrably outweigh the benefits, or if national policies protecting important assets provide a clear reason for refusal of an application when assessed against the national policies taken as a whole, the application should be refused.

For as long as local authorities fail to demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, they will be more at risk of appeals and speculative planning applications being successful. That said, we are reviewing the planning system, including the role of the five-year housing land supply policy, and considering its alignment with and support of the levelling-up agenda.

The housing delivery test is a scheme that is designed to encourage authorities to focus on supporting the build-out of deliverable schemes with planning permission, but also to be realistic about likely rates of delivery from sites in those plans. It aims to offer greater transparency on the actual housing delivery in an area and to ensure that communities’ local housing need is being delivered in a local planning authority area. It therefore does not necessarily just measure permissions.

The Government are clear that developers should build out permissions as quickly as possible. That is an area in which I am taking a personal interest. When planning permission has been granted for new developments or when sites are stalled or experiencing delays in being delivered, it is for local authorities and developers to work closely together at a local level to overcome the barriers, as they are best placed to achieve that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden talked passionately about infrastructure, and contributions from developers play an important role in developing the infrastructure that new homes require. Local authorities can obtain contributions by charging a community infrastructure levy on new developments and by negotiating section 106 planning obligations with a developer. According to its 2021 infrastructure funding statement, Wealden District Council collected over £5 million in community infrastructure levy in that year, plus over £3.4 million from section 106 agreements.

I know that my hon. Friend has called for the Government to explore the whole issue of the introduction of a new infrastructure levy, which will replace section 106 planning obligations and the community infrastructure levy. The proposed levy will be simpler, more transparent and more consistent. I would like to reassure her that I recognise the importance of the timely delivery of infrastructure through developer contributions. That will be an important consideration in the design of the new levy. In my constituency, I know people feel frustrated that often the infrastructure comes way too late, or perhaps not at all, to meet the demands.

My hon. Friend kindly invited me to visit her constituency; I will be delighted to do so at some point, although she did not quite sell it with the misery line. Even so, I would be more than happy to come.

I thank, again, both my hon. Friends for fighting for their constituencies and for raising this important topic for debate. The Government recognise that we need a modernised planning system. We are considering how best to take forward proposals for changes to the planning system. An announcement on next steps will be made in due course. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Wealden also previously suggested that numbers for local authorities reflecting the housing an area needs should be advisory, not mandatory. I want to take this opportunity to reassure her that I have heard the concerns loud and clear, not just from her but from many colleagues in the last three weeks.

My hon. Friend also raised the important point about older people. She may be interested to know that we are developing an older people’s taskforce to see what we can do to help in that important area. She raised the possibility of a stamp duty reduction for last-time buyers. She will be aware that that is a decision for the Treasury and is a bit beyond my purview. I sincerely encourage her to have a constructive debate with our Treasury colleagues on that issue.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to speak on this subject again. As the new Minister in the Department, I am keen to understand the issues in her area and in other areas around the country as we try to find a planning policy and system that works for the whole country, delivers the houses we need for our local people and ensures we have the economic prosperity that that will bring. I look forward to working with her over the coming years.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.