Identifying brownfield land suitable for new housing

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1 Building more homes on brownfield land Identifying brownfield land suitable for new housing POS consultation response Question 1: Do you agree with our proposed definition of brownfield land suitable for new housing and the criteria that are applied to define land suitable for new housing? Although POS agrees with the principle behind building more homes on brownfield land, we have serious concerns regarding the proposals as set out in the consultation document. Namely, the quantity of work involved in having Local Development Orders (LDOs) in place on all defined brownfield sites and the inappropriateness of some sites to the LDO process. In addition POS believes that any sites which are deliverable through the suggested policy would already be designated as housing in the Local Plan or would be on the LPAs radar, through pre-application discussions. The proposals represent a considerable additional burden on LPAs without sufficient additional funding at a time of reducing local council funding, the benefits of which are unproven. These are fundamental concerns which underpins the idea behind this consultation proposal. On this basis, and, taking into account some of the practicalities that the consultation document itself identifies, POS would strongly suggest that the proposal is tested through the use of pilots. This would help to better understand the benefits, any practical challenges and potential ways of resolving these. The concerns that POS has are set out below; Sites which are developable would already be allocated for housing or at pre-app stage POS believes that any brownfield sites which are deliverable in accordance with the suggested criteria and provision of a new LDO would already be designated as housing in the Local Plan or would be on the LPAs radar, through pre-application discussions. It is very unlikely that sites which could deliver good quality housing in a sustainable location would not already be counted in a LPAs five year land supply. If a site is deliverable (in Page 1 of 9

2 terms of ownership and existing use), free of constraint (contaminated land/green belt etc), capable of development (interest from developers to purchase and build housing in future) and capable of supporting five or more dwellings as set out in the proposed definition of brownfield land it would already be designated as housing. If a site is not already designated it is unlikely to be appropriate for housing either due to the loss of commercial/ industrial uses, location or constraints. This is a fundamental concern which underpins the idea behind this consultation proposal. Loss of industrial/commercial land and need mixed use developments POS does not advocate retaining industrial land where there is no demonstrable demand but is concerned about the emphasis in these proposals to allow sites which are in use or under-utilised to become housing. The policy is steered towards industrial or commercial sites which have not been previously designated as housing land. There will be cases where there are good reasons why these sites have not been previously earmarked for housing. The value of brownfield industrial land in supporting the economy and providing employment should not be undervalued. The economy is as important as providing housing and local industrial/commercial uses support local jobs which support communities and allow for a sustainable way of living without relying on long and expensive commutes to access work. Although POS agrees that the delivery of housing is a high priority, the residents who occupy these houses need to have access to a mix of uses including employment and social infrastructure in the area. POS is concerned that the emphasis of this consultation on delivering housing is missing a crucial point that large scale developments on brownfield land should be mixed use. There should be a clear steer that LDOs should provide a mix of uses and infrastructure where required. Otherwise new residential areas may be isolated from shops, schools and other basic community requirements. Testing the deliverability of the policy POS has gathered some evidence on the practicality of implementing this policy in Croydon from its SHLAA and decisions database. Croydon would be expected to put in place nearly 300 LDOs. This is a huge additional workload that would be unfunded. Whilst it is appreciated that some funding is available to authorities through the Local Development Order on Brownfield Land invitation to bid it does not support all authorities and is a one-off payment so does not provide for on-going costs. Page 2 of 9

3 In the context of many local planning authorities, including croydon, providing a LDO would be completely unnecessary as there is an up-to-date, NPPF compliant Local Plan in place and the authority is delivering housing numbers at or above their predicted delivery rate. The consequence of this initiative would be to divert scarce resources from the mainstream planning work to enable this new requirement to be met. There is serious risk that resources will be taken away from other critical work such as the determination of major applications and development of Local Plans. This would be particularly difficult for small authorities. The unintended consequence could easily be less housing being delivered as a result. LDOs are not the right tool for urban areas or effective at engaging the community POS is concerned that many brownfield sites in urban areas are in locations where they will be developed to very high densities. These sites could be within a metropolitan centre where many authorities would have planned for high levels of housing growth. For example the Croydon Metropolitan Centre is planing to deliver over 7000 homes. These complex sites do not lend themselves to LDOs, they generally contain tall, in some cases over 50 storey, buildings that need to be designed to the very highest standards as required by the NPPF. An LDO would add very little to sites in urban areas where very clear and up to date planning policy frameworks are in place. POS understands that not all LPAs have an up to date planning policy framework, however even in these cases an LDO would not be the right tool to use and would add very little value or enticement to developers to bring a site forward. Also where a LPA is behind in adopting a Local Plan or relevant planning framework a series of LDOs would not ease the planning process once a developer submits a planning application. The use of LDOs may give the perception that local communities are having development imposed on them as it will be the LPA who develops the proposals and then adopts the proposals. POS is aware that this can be an issue when the LPA determines a planning application submitted by another part of the council. It raises the issue of openness and transparency of the system as the LPA will be both the developer and the decisionmaker. This is why LDOs should be limited to covering issues which would not have an impact on residents e.g. planning freedoms within a business park. Page 3 of 9

4 LDOs would not deal with developers holding land for future hope value Where brownfield sites are not coming forward the reason is often not a lack of clarity around planning requirements but reluctant developers/owners who are holding onto sites generally for reasons related to the potential for greater future returns. POS would suggest that the often titled use it or lose it proposals are needed to unlock these sites. Essentially this would be a relatively small change to the CPO rules that makes it clear that where a site is clearly developable for housing (either through a clear planning policy position or a planning permission - effectively the current no planning impediment test in the CPO circular) and it has not come forward in a reasonable timescale, then a CPO should succeed and compensation disregard the unimplemented residential planning permission i.e. it is based on current use value. Detailed comments on the definition of brownfield land POS considers that a 5 unit threshold is too low, not all authorities Strategic Land Availability Assessments (SLAAS) go down to this level. It is noted that whilst the National Planning Practice Guidance (Housing and economic land availability assessment section ID ) sets out that assessments should consider all sites and broad locations capable of delivering five or more dwellings it then goes on to say that Where appropriate, plan makers may wish to consider alternative site size thresholds. It should be down to LPAs to decide the minimum thresholds as this will change throughout the country. For example in urban areas a threshold of 50 may be more appropriate. In addition the suggested definition of deliverable sites includes being uncontaminated land. Unless a landowner has undertaken detailed investigations then there is unlikely to be sufficient information available to make a judgement regarding the impacts of costs on viability - this may result in the local authority undertaking costly and abortive work. Question 2: Do you agree that local planning authorities should be transparent and publish the small subset of data at source and update it at least once a year, to a common standard and specification? Yes, POS agrees that local planning authorities should be transparent and publish data regarding brownfield sites. However, POS is concerned that the requirement for LPAs to monitor and report the implementation of this initiative would introduce another layer of bureaucracy that the Government has sought to move away from. The tests/criteria are Page 4 of 9

5 very similar to those for SLAAs, POS would suggest that the reporting of brownfield sites is included in this document. Or alternatively published as part of the LPAs Annual Monitoring Review. It should not be reported as a separate piece as this would be confusing for members of public accessing Council information and resource intensive for LPAs to provide. Question 3: Do you have views on how this common standard and specification should be developed? POS would suggest that the information collected should utilise existing LPA databases (e.g. Acolaid or Uniform) to avoid additional work and resources. The collection and publishing of the information should not be a burden upon the local planning authorities, it should be easily obtainable and ideally be able to be updated automatically. The requirement for information should not be unrealistic as many local authorities will not have resources to obtain the exact ownership of a site nor should it be up to the local authority to provide up-to-date contact details of the owners. The information required to be reported should be assessed as part of a trial. Question 4: Do you agree that local planning authorities should review their baseline and progress regularly, at least annually, to ensure that information about permissions on suitable brownfield land is current, reflecting changes in the availability of suitable housing sites? POS understands that up to date information is important and would agree that annually seems to be the right approach. It is unlikely that local authorities would be in a position to update a list more frequently than once a year. Unless an approach is taken to briefly update a list of brownfield sites each time an LDO is completed for a site. It is unclear how a list of sites would be displayed, it may be relevant for all relevant brownfield sites to be listed, despite whether they have a LDO or planing permission. This would inform potential developers of sites considered appropriate for housing and they may progress a site through pre-app without waiting for a LDO to be available. The challenging part of this is that a LPA would need to complete an audit of possible brownfield sites at an early stage and then work through priority sites to eventually have 90% of sites covered by an LDO. Once a list of brownfield sites has been published, it is unlikely that many new sites would be added, it is more likely that amendments would be made to update that a LDO or Page 5 of 9

6 planning permission has been taken forward on the site or a change in ownership from public to private sector. In terms of the 90% figure it should be clear that this relates to 90% of relevant brownfield sites as identified by the local planning authority (meeting requirements set out in paragraph 14 of the consultation). It would be up to the LPA to provide a completed list of brownfield sites and this would dictate the number of LDOs required as the relevant proportion are meeting the targets of having a valid planning permission or LDO. Measures to encourage progress Question 5: Do you think that the designation of under-performing planning authorities in the way suggested would provide an effective incentive to bringing forward planning permissions on brownfield land? No. It has been demonstrated that developers are not attracted too making applications direct to PINS. A positive incentive would be more effective e.g. local planning authorities who comply can set their own planning fees. Paragraph 27 of the consultation document recognises that the 90% figure is likely to change from year to year. This fluctuation will make it incredibly difficult to plan resources effectively. Question 6: Do you agree that: a) Authorities should be designated from 2020 if they have not met the 90% objective? b) Performance against the 90% objective should be calculated on the extent to which the brownfield land suitable for housing identified a year earlier is covered by local development orders? No there is no need for an LDO if a planning permission is in place. Being designated is not an incentive for many authorities, many would strive towards meeting the target if they were rewarded with more freedom from Government e.g. to set their own planning fees. Question 7: Do you agree that: a) Authorities should be assessed against an intermediate objective in 2017? Page 6 of 9

7 b) Having local development orders in place on 50% of brownfield land identified as suitable for housing (and which does not already benefit from planning permission) in the preceding year is an appropriate intermediate objective? No, if the aim is to achieve 90% LDO coverage, by 2020, it does not seem logical to expect 50% by This assumes a front loaded process whereby it is likely to be a process that starts at a slower pace as procedures and expertise are developed. Therefore 2018 at 45% or 2017 at 25% would be better intermediate targets, if such targets were considered necessary. Question 8: Do you agree that authorities should be designated from 2017 if they have failed to make sufficient progress against the intermediate objective? No. They should receive support from PAS Question 9: Do you agree: a) With our proposed approach to identifying and confirming designations, including the consideration of whether exceptional circumstances apply? b) With our suggested approach to de-designating authorities from 2020? c) That the provisions for handling applications made to the Secretary of State should be the same as where an authority is designated under the existing performance measures? An application should only be made to the secretary of state on a site which the LPA agrees is developable brownfield land as per the consultation. Applications for planning permission on designated housing sites etc should follow the normal practices. Question 10: Do you: a) Think the policy-based approach would provide an effective incentive for authorities to put local development orders in place on suitable brownfield land? b) Agree with the proposed thresholds and dates at which this measure would take effect? Disagree strongly with this for reasons cited above. In any case, the measure in relation to a lack of 5-year housing land supply is effective where the principle of development on a site is an issue (i.e. a greenfield site) whereas on a brownfield site the principle is rarely at Page 7 of 9

8 issue. The determinative issues are generally design and impact. POS would warn that this position could result in poorly designed developments or developments that have adverse impacts would be supported through this process. POS strongly believes that all applications for new homes, including new homes proposed on brownfield land should be assessed in accordance with the NPPF and up-to-date local plans. New homes should be well designed and appropriately laid out taking into account relevant material planning consideration. Applications for housing should be assessed against all material planning considerations. The NPPF already provides an assumption in favour of sustainable development. Applications for inappropriate development leading to poor quality housing should not be approved on the basis that the LPA has not met a Government target. All new homes should provide a good quality of accommodation and a decent home. It is not right that as a result of a government target not being met that this would result in poor planning and low quality housing with a poor quality of life for occupants. For the reasons cited above the LDO completion rates are unreasonable and unrealistic. Question 11: Do you agree that the measures proposed for failing to publish information on progress are proportionate and effective? If not, what alternative would you propose and why? No, for similar reasons to that above POS would not agree with the proposed measures. Instead LPA should be incentivised to provide data and meet the 90% targets with more freedom from Government. This could include less reporting requirements and LPAs setting their own fees. Well performing LPAs should be rewarded with the freedom to get on and do the job. This will allow more resources to be focused on continuing to do the job well. Where authorities are struggling they should be the focus of government attention and PAS support, Government would have more time to dedicate to struggling authorities rather than regularly reviewing all authorities, most of which would be performing well. Question 12: Do you have any other suggestions for measures that could help to deliver local development orders on brownfield land suitable for new housing? Page 8 of 9

9 POS would suggest that LPA s are given greater support to go down a CPO route if landowners have a planning permission or a piece of developable land but are not proactively seeking to deliver housing in the immediate future. POS would suggest a CPO use it or lose it approach should be a strong policy from central government. This would inspire planning departments to work proactively with developers in the knowledge that a development would actually be built rather than wasting time negotiating a scheme which will only be used to increase the value of land. Page 9 of 9

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