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Is this policy forcing councils to build more homes despite objection?

PUBLISHED: 13:09 01 November 2019 | UPDATED: 10:27 04 November 2019

The country is facing a housing crisis but what are councils doing about it?. Photo: Getty

The country is facing a housing crisis but what are councils doing about it?. Photo: Getty

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The country is in the midst of a housing crisis with young people and families unable to get on the housing ladder due to high prices and there not being enough homes. MARC BETTS investigates whether Norfolk councils are doing their bit.

The country is facing a housing crisis but what are councils doing about it?. Photo: GettyThe country is facing a housing crisis but what are councils doing about it?. Photo: Getty

More than 3m homes must be built over the next 20 years to head off a crisis, according to housing charity Shelter.

But with central government more focused on Europe what is in place to make sure our local authorities are doing their fair share?

The government has five-year land supply rules, which make borough councils highlight land to developers where deliverable housing can be built.

Every five years authorities use population growth forecasts to determine how many homes are needed, and planning applications are analysed to understand if housing supply will meet demand.

New homes built in Brooke, South Norfolk. Picture: Marc BettsNew homes built in Brooke, South Norfolk. Picture: Marc Betts

If it does not, planning policies are relaxed to encourage new applications.

Michael Rayner, planning campaign consultant at Campaign to Protect Rural England Norfolk, highlighted the importance of a land supply in providing suitable housing.

He said: "When a council doesn't have a five year land supply that opens up the way for speculative applications which would lead to profitable schemes for the developer but little thought for the sustainability of those developments as it is permitted land under the Local Plan.

"It's entirely inappropriate that such developments are allowed to go ahead but the planning route we have got means it can go ahead. It is really important that councils do maintain their five year supply for developers to fulfil housing on the allocated sites."

Norfolk has seven councils dealing with thousands of applications every year.

Of the councils, five have an identified supply of five years or more. These are:

■ Norwich City Council - 8.1 years

■ Broadland District Council - 14.4 years

Bennett Homes is one of the largest developers in Norfolk. Picture: Marc BettsBennett Homes is one of the largest developers in Norfolk. Picture: Marc Betts

■ West Norfolk and King's Lynn Borough Council - 5.9 years

■ North Norfolk District Council - 6.6 years

■ South Norfolk Council - 6.63 years

But Breckland District Council and Great Yarmouth Borough Council have failed to meet the government's target with 4.77 years and 4.6 years respectively.

The country is facing a housing crisis but what are councils doing about it?. Photo: GettyThe country is facing a housing crisis but what are councils doing about it?. Photo: Getty

South Norfolk, Norwich and Broadland combined their planning services, which they said would save the councils a combined £8.6m over the next five years.

This is part of their aim to create the Greater Norwich Development Partnership by 2021, which means the local authorities would share the need for their five-year land supply.

So what is the situation where you live? Will there be enough homes for those who need them in the coming years? The following provides answers:

South Norfolk District Council leader John Fuller. Picture: South Norfolk CouncilSouth Norfolk District Council leader John Fuller. Picture: South Norfolk Council

Breckland Council

Breckland is seeing mass growth with plans expected for an enterprise park that could create 2,500 jobs near Thetford. But despite its business sector expecting to grow the council has not met its supply.

A Breckland Council spokesman said: "The starting point is for the council to be in favour of new housing applications, unless the development is not considered to be sustainable or there are other material issues which make an application inappropriate."

It is working to complete its Local Plan which would hand some power back to the council.

Karen Ward of North Norfolk District Council. Photo: North Norfolk Liberal DemocratsKaren Ward of North Norfolk District Council. Photo: North Norfolk Liberal Democrats

"The council is currently working hard to finalise its Local Plan, which will act as a blueprint for the district's growth through to 2036," the spokesman added.

"When the final version of the plan is adopted by the council later this year, it will identify areas of land which have been agreed through previous public consultations that can be used for housing growth.

"This means the council will have a five-year housing land supply going forward and applications will be subject to the council's planning policies, while proposed development outside of the identified housing areas is less likely to be granted planning permission by the council."

New builds at Spingfield Gardens in Acle. Picture: Keiron TovellNew builds at Spingfield Gardens in Acle. Picture: Keiron Tovell

Great Yarmouth Borough Council

Great Yarmouth is one of the councils not reaching its target. It said factors included the slow speed of house building.

A spokesman said: "This is largely because, despite more planning permissions being granted, local completions of new homes have only very slowly increased in recent years and fall a long way short of the current local housing target.

"While the private sector dominates the pace of housing delivery, the council has taken a more active role within its limited resources, including building and supporting new social housing, and delivering new homes for sale at Beacon Park.

Work under way on a new housing development off Cromer Road, Hunstanton  Picture: Chris BishopWork under way on a new housing development off Cromer Road, Hunstanton Picture: Chris Bishop

"There is currently planning permission in place for more than 3,000 homes in the borough, but only around 200 a year are being built," the spokesman added.

The council currently has a Local Plan but is creating a second to bring it up to government standards.

The spokesman added: "The council is also proposing to reduce its housing target in its Local Plan Part Two to make it consistent with the latest government method, which would bring it closer to an achievable level."

South Norfolk Council

South Norfolk Council has recently meet the governments target for the five year land supply.

But earlier this year it had not, putting the council in a difficult position.

Council leader John Fuller said: "It is really difficult.

"People need to recognise that the council has a job to hold the ring by balancing developers' aspirations and the residents' concerns.

"But both residents and developers often feel hard done by and blame each other with the council stuck in the crossfire. What the council has to do is apply the law, without favour.

"It is a complicated area of law that isn't always easy to understand but we have to maintain the course."

He added: "It is in everyone's interest that the council has a strong plan, evidence based and kept up-to-date as the best way to de-conflict what is always a contentious area of law."

South Norfolk saw a development by FW Properties withdrawn in Brooke as the council prepared to announce its supply figures.

FW Properties had put forward the development of 148 homes because of the council's lack of supply. But changes in how the government calculate it and uncertainty surrounding a new 210-pupil primary school caused it to pull out.

At the time FW Properties director Julian Wells said: "One of the parts of our planning application was the fact that this part of South Norfolk could be seen as lacking a five year land supply.

"We believe that is no longer the case and whilst it has not been fully confirmed at this stage the writing looks pretty much on the wall for that."

King's Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council

This is one of the best performing councils. It currently has a supply of nearly six years.

But because the figures used to calculate the five-year supply are ever changing the council is constantly working to keep its supply.

A spokesman said: "Meeting the five-year housing land supply target is ever evolving because of the way it's calculated and the factors that come into play. We constantly monitor land availability against housing demand.

"This focuses on promoting growth and sustainable development along the A10 corridor and takes into account new housing need figures as per the Government's calculations."

North Norfolk District Council

In September last year North Norfolk used its 6.6-year land supply to defend itself when developer MLN (Land and Properties) LTD appealed against the council's refusal of its 200 home plan.

The homes were set to be built on land outside the development boundary, between Aylsham Road and Greens Road in North Walsham. The council was able to show it had a five-year land supply and could refuse housing outside of its boundary even if it was proved sustainable.

Karen Ward, cabinet member for planning, policy and housing, said: "The council's position on housing land supply was successfully defended in the recent public inquiry decision at Green Lane, North Walsham. We will continue to pro-actively determine planning applications which promote sustainable development and boost local housing supply."

What do the developers say?

Norfolk-based developers were keen to defend themselves against any accusations that they took advantage of areas that did not have a five-year housing supply.

They said they worked with councils, not against them.

Edward Parker, managing director of Bennett Homes, said: "Developers are sometimes accused of taking advantage of councils without a five-year land supply but for us, this is simply not the case.

"Where no five-year plan is in place, councils must consider any development proposal that is sustainable. The whole idea of this policy is to incentivise councils to put a plan in place, which will benefit everyone in terms of delivering homes to meet the current shortfall."

Lanpro is one of the largest developers in Norfolk. Last year it submitted plans to build a 10,000-home garden town between the villages of North Elmham, Billingford and Bintree, in Breckland.

Managing director Chris Leeming said: "We always want to build on allocated sites when they are available. Not every allocated site is developable within the time frame and if you're a volume house builder you will need sites that are adjusted to different markets with the size of homes and different price points.

"I think a good development should be considered whether it has been allocated or not. There is no reason a council can't give a good development permission."

He added: "It is not enough to get planning permission any more because you have to have a marketable product in the right place that people want to build and want to live in, doing it in a sustainable way that can create jobs and services.

"No-one is saying 'I hope you haven't got a supply'. What we are saying is 'where are you with it? Are you doing what you should be doing? Is your plan under performing?' It is a part of the planning process but there is a lot to take into consideration."

David Wilson Homes agreed that the house-building industry was business-led, but said the five-year land supply rules did not allow builders to do what they wanted.

A spokesperson for David Wilson Homes Eastern Counties said: "The number of dwellings proposed on a development is proportionate to the size of the site, its constraints and whether or not the local planning authority has undertaken an up-to-date locally derived, robust housing market assessment.

"Where there is a shortfall in the land supply, particularly a persistent under-delivery the presumption is in favour of sustainable development but this alone is not sufficient to justify development.

"The absence of up-to-date housing policies does not necessarily open the door to unplanned growth."

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