Written Ministerial Statement on Neighbourhood Planning: Making it up as they go along?

19 December, 2016

The Planning Minister, Gavin Barwell, has issued a Written Ministerial Statement (“the Statement”) on neighbourhood plans, stating that “where communities plan for housing in their area in a neighbourhood plan, those plans should not be deemed to be out-of-date unless there is a significant lack of land supply for housing in the wider local authority area”. This comes amid pressure from backbench MPs who are concerned that neighbourhood plans are being ignored because of wider local plan-making shortcomings.

From Monday 12 December 2016, the relevant policies for the supply of housing contained in a neighbourhood plan shall not be deemed out-of-date under paragraph 49 of the National Planning Policy Framework (“NPPF”) if the following circumstances arise at the time a planning decision is made:

  • The Statement is less than two years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for two years or less;
  • The neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and
  • The local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

So, neighbourhood plans in local authority areas with less than a 5 year supply but more than 3 years will not be regarded as out of date whereas the local plan would be.

The minister also announced that planning appeals involving developments of 25 homes or more in areas where a draft neighbourhood plan has been submitted for examination will continue to be recovered by the Secretary of State, for a further six months at least.

These provisions seek to give strength to neighbourhood plans (both adopted and emerging) and “protect communities who have worked hard to produce their neighbourhood plan and find the housing supply policies are deemed to be out-of-date through no fault of their own”.

This will be music to the ears of parish councillors, many of whom have recently expressed their displeasure with decisions not going their way. This will include six parish councillors from Newick, East Sussex who resigned earlier this week after the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government allowed an appeal for 50 new homes in their village.

However, the Statement has dangerous implications for the future supply of housing, particularly in areas that need it most. The Statement appears at odds with the Government’s pledge to help boost the supply of housing and also at odds with the NPPF. Many will wonder how a Written Ministerial Statement can change the application of the NPPF overnight.

A Written Ministerial Statement is a material consideration in determining a planning application and it will be for the decision maker to decide how much weight is to be applied to the Statement, including whether it should take precedence over the NPPF. This has just added more uncertainty into the process. This may be the reason for speculation that the Statement will be challenged in the High Court.

The Statement may result in more negatively prepared plans that come in advance of up-to-date local plans because Parish Councils realise they only need to meet a 3-year housing supply now, rather than a 5-year housing supply. It may also result in more neighbourhood plans allocating sites for housing simply to be able to take advantage of this new policy.

Ultimately, this change may result in applications for much-needed housing in areas that do not have an adequate housing land supply being refused because the neighbourhood plan has not allocated the site, or the number of dwellings.

The aim of the Localism Act 2011 was to allow local residents and parish councils to have a greater say in how development is delivered in their community. This aim is utilised well when neighbourhood plans are prepared positively and in accordance with an up-to-date local plan or by using up-to-date housing supply statistics. Unfortunately, there are still some instances of parishes attempting to block development through neighbourhood plans and this Statement arguably gives them more licence to do so.