HomeTruths #2

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The tilted balance

Every year Spelthorne Council (and every other Planning Authority in England) has to show how much housing it is delivering compared to the target handed down from Whitehall, and other measures of the Council’s planning performance. The Council’s annual report to Whitehall is known as the Housing Delivery Test Action Plan. The latest report (published in November 2021, based on the test conducted in January 2021) can be viewed at:

https://www.spelthorne.gov.uk/article/19626/Housing-Delivery-Test-Action-Plan-2020

The test compares the number of new homes delivered over the previous three years with the Authority’s housing requirement. In the case of Spelthorne, these are as follows:

2019       63%

2020       60%

2021       50%

2022       69%

There are sanctions for this under-delivery:

  1. Where housing delivery over the previous three years has been less than 95% of the housing requirement, Local Planning Authorities should prepare an action plan setting out the causes of under-delivery and the intended actions to increase delivery;
  2. Where delivery has been less than 85% of the housing requirement, a 20% buffer should be applied to the supply of deliverable sites for the purposes of housing delivery assessment;
  3. Where delivery has been less than 75% of the housing requirement, the NPPFs presumption in favour of sustainable development will apply.

Spelthorne’s under-delivery therefore means that a 20% buffer should be applied to our annual five year supply target, from 611 to 733, and also that a presumption in favour of development will apply, until the target is reached. This is known as the “tilted balance”. The explanation is worth quoting in full:

“2.9 Where there is a presumption in favour of development, the “tilted balance” applies where the balance is skewed in favour of sustainable development and granting planning permission except where the benefits are ‘significantly and demonstrably’ outweighed by the adverse impacts or where specific policies in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) indicate otherwise. The “tilted balance” also applies where there is the absence of relevant up to date development plan policies or where the local authority does not have a five year housing land supply which is presently the case for Spelthorne.

2.10 The tilted balance therefore increases the prospect of planning permission being granted because it ‘tilts’ the balance in favour of approving an application.

Note the section in bold above. Not only is there a “tilted balance” because of the under-delivery of dwellings against the target, but also because Spelthorne does not have a valid Local Plan.

The dangers of a delay to implementing our new Local Plan could not be put more starkly. Without a Local Plan, development will beat more risk of approval, with less power to Spelthorne Council.

And if you think we are being alarmist, it is already happening.

This is what the Planning Inspector said in his conclusions to the Appeal lodged by the developers of the Old Telephone Exchange site in Staines, at paragraph 76:

“76. The benefit of providing homes in an area of under-delivery of housing and where there is not a five-year supply of housing land, adds significant weight in favour of the scheme.”

There you have it. A Brownfield site given permission for development in terms of the “tilted balance”, because Spelthorne does not have a Local Plan. Although the “tilted balance” does not apply to Green Belt sites, the lack of an up-to-date Local Plan, and the absence of a five year housing supply makes these sites vulnerable to approval, particularly on Appeal.

This is what the Planning Inspector said in his conclusions to the Appeal lodged by the developers of the Bugle Nurseries site, at paragraph 61:

“61. In terms of Appeal B, I have found that this would not constitute inappropriate development within the Green Belt. The proposed development would contribute 31 dwellings towards the existing housing stock within the Borough, where there is no 5-year land supply.”

We hear that developers are queuing up to take advantage while they can.

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