The threat of an automatic presumption in favour of sustainable development in areas where the number of homes being delivered falls below a target is “unhelpful and misguided”, according to the chair of the Local Government Association.
Lord Porter (Con) said “it is completely wrong” to lay the blame for a lack of housing being built on councils as he said nine in 10 planning applications are approved while almost three-quarters (73%) of planning refusals are upheld on appeal.
Councils approved more than 321,000 new homes in 2016-17, while there were around 183,000 new homes built in the same year. However, more than 423,000 homes with planning permission are still waiting to be built, Lord Porter added.
“It is completely wrong, therefore, to suggest the country’s failure to build the housing it desperately needs is down to councils,” said Lord Porter. “The threat of stripping councils of their rights to decide where homes are built is unhelpful and misguided.”
This comes after housing and communities secretary Sajid Javid warned the government will be “breathing down” the neck of local authorities to make sure they deliver the number of homes their areas need. A housing delivery test is set to be implemented which would result in a presumption in favour of sustainable development applying “automatically” to all proposals if the number of homes being built in an area falls below 25% of its target.
If the government is to meet its target of building 300,000 new homes every year Lord Porter said “councils have to be able to borrow to build homes again”.
He added councils also need “greater powers” to force developers to “act where housebuilding has stalled”.
Lord Porter also said: “The government must also end national policies that undermine the local voice of councils and communities. This includes scrapping permitted development rights that allow developers to convert offices into homes without planning permission, which accounted for one in 10 new homes last year.
“Ultimately, the private sector will never build enough of the homes the country needs on its own. The government must back the widespread calls, including from the treasury select committee, for council borrowing and investment freedoms to spark a renaissance in house building by local government.”
Meanwhile, coalition of national organisations have written to Mr Javid to say the proposed statement of common ground, which is meant to show how councils will work together to meet housing requirements that cut across authority boundaries, is a “toothless instrument” in its current guise.
The County Councils Network (CCN), the Home Builders Federation (HBF), the Town & Country Planning Association (TCPA), the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation (CIHT), the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning, & Transport (ADEPT), and the Association of County Chief Executives (ACCE) have all called for county councils to be given a formal role in signing off matters relating to infrastructure, economic growth, education, and social care, and that the statement of common ground should not be implemented until the county council signs it off.
In the letter, signed by Cllr Philip Atkins, vice-chairman of CCN, Kate Henderson, chief executive of the TCPA, Andrew Whitaker, planning director of the HBF, Sue Percy, chief executive of CIHT, Simon Neilson, president of ADEPT, and John Wood, leader advisor on planning and housing at ACCE, the six organisations argue: “Promoting the alignment of planning for housing and infrastructure at higher spatial levels will assist in meeting the economic challenges that county areas face, increasing high value jobs and increasing productivity and rebalancing the economy meeting the aims of the government’s industrial strategy and promoting sustainable growth across the country.”