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Developers challenge 'irrational' neighbourhood plan changes

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Housebuilders have issued a legal challenge to the government over a move by housing and planning minister Gavin Barwell to strengthen neighbourhood plans.

Mr Barwell said last month that where a neighbourhood plan is in place councils need have only a three year supply of land for housebuilding rather than five, as is currently the case.

This concession applies for the next two years to existing plans and to new plans for their first two years.

However, some developers argue that the policy change is irrational and they were not consulted.

Mr Barwell said in a ministerial statement in December: “Communities who have been proactive and worked hard to bring forward neighbourhood plans are often frustrated that their plan is being undermined because their local planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year land supply of deliverable housing sites.”

He said plans should be deemed valid “unless there is a significant lack of land supply for housing in the wider local authority area”, which he later clarified as meaning three years’ supply.

Neighbourhood plans were introduced by the Localism Act 2011 and some 230 are in force. They allow communities greater control over the scale and nature of development.

Planning consultant Richborough Estates has this week published a letter sent to communities secretary Sajid Javid on 30 December threatening to take him to court unless he climbed down. Richborough’s action has been joined by some 20 leading housebuilders including Redrow and Linden.

Law firm Eversheds said in the letter that the new policy was “illogical, irrational and unreasonable”, had not undergone consultation, was based on mistaken evidence and was perverse “when set against government policy to significantly boost the supply of housing”.

The Department for Communities & Local Government and the Royal Town Institute declined to comment.

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