18 May Houses, houses everywhere – The Planner’s view

We are seeing houses, many of them on sites never contemplated before. The reason we are seeing this explosion is a catastrophic failure of planning policy where growth in rural areas has been seen as one of the deadly sins for far too long.

The government’s response to the housing shortage which has made planning authorities identify a five year supply of housing land year on year, is clearly an opportunity for landowners. The start point is filling in the form (usually downloadable from the Authority’s website) which is part of the Local Plan process to say your land is available for development. The form usually asks you to list the site’s constraints, but this is not difficult. Now is the moment!

Most planning authority websites have information as to the status of their local plan, and the monitoring reports will give information on housing numbers, but these also need to be considered against recent appeal decisions relating to shortfall of provision and how this is to be addressed. It is something of a moveable feast.

Development of brownfield land is seen as desirable; it is worth remembering equestrian land is brownfield land. A recent High Court case also held in rural areas that gardens are brownfield too.

The Housing and Planning Bill is making way through the House of Lords. It is a cornerstone of the Conservative Government’s vision for 2020. Among many other things, the Bill sets out a statutory requirement for authorities to provide starter homes as a home for first-time buyers under 40 years old, available for a price at least 20% less than the market price with a maximum price tag of £250,000 outside London. The twenty per cent reduction will be reflected when the houses are sold on. Following an amendment in the Lords, it is likely these houses cannot be built on rural exception sites, but they will have a more commercial plot value, and these will become an element of most larger developments.

The Bill also supports sites for self builders and will require authorities to establish the demand for self build plots and to grant permission for suitable pieces of land to meet the requirement. The devil will no doubt be in the detail and this will not be known for a while.

Permitted Development is an art form in its own right. Nevertheless, on the basis the tests for the relevant Class set out in the General Permitted Development Order 2015 can be met it is lighter touch approach than a full blown planning application. Most farm buildings are fairly remote so it is a welcome change from the usual school of thought that sustainability is a bus stop.

A new, time limited, permitted development class, Class PA is being introduced as of 30 September 2017 until 1 October 2020, which allows conversion of premises in light industrial use to a house. Unlike Class Q Buildings in AONBs and National Parks are not excluded, but authorities can consider whether the development will have an adverse impact on the sustainability of provision of those services’. This could prove useful for those with light industrial units that are difficult to let.

Finally, on a facetious note, I am advised that bats, the bane of all developers lives, protected by EU legislation, are voting IN!

This article was published in the May 2016 edition of South East Farmer magazine.

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