All posts by Keep Kempton Green

Home Truths #3

Sites at risk from Local Plan delay

We have already seen that the housing target of 611 dwellings per annum for this Borough, sent down from Whitehall, is not going to be reduced.

( see https://keepkemptongreen.com/2022/03/10/home-truths-1 )

We have also seen that there are sanctions for not meeting this target, and for not having a Local Plan in place, showing how the Borough is going to meet that target of 611 per annum.

( see https://keepkemptongreen.com/2022/03/19/hometruths-2 )

So far, two sites have fallen foul of this lack of a Local Plan.

One site, the Old Telephone Exchange in Staines, was already earmarked for development under the draft Local Plan. However, the planning application – brought forward early by Inland Homes – was rejected by the Spelthorne Planning Committee on the grounds of bad design and lack of on-site parking. Nevertheless, the Planning Inspector hearing the developer’s Appeal granted their application, because we do not have a Local Plan.

The other site, the Bugle site, had been assessed by the two Arup studies into our Green Belt as “Strongly performing Green Belt” which makes “an important contribution to the wider strategic Green Belt”. Nevertheless, the Planning Inspector hearing the Appeal granted the application, because we do not have a Local Plan.

The Bugle site is one of the sites listed in the table (click here) from the Preferred Options documentation, part of the existing Local Plan that is being delayed by party-political game-playing at the Council. We have outlined it in red on page 81 . *

This list comprises those sites which have been considered for development but excluded from the Local Plan, for various reasons (shown in the table).

All of these sites – Green Belt and Brownfield – are now at risk. So long as we have no Local Plan, it is now open season for developers, knowing full well that the Planning Inspectorate will tilt a decision in their favour.

Groveley Road, anyone. Tadmor Close, perhaps. Kempton Park? There are sites in Ashford, Laleham, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell and Sunbury – 75 of them, in all. Take your pick.

Check the list for a site or sites in your area, and then ask your local councillor why they are at risk. (You know the answer, of course. It’s because we do not have a Local Plan.)

It is all very well to portray oneself as a defender of every bit of Green Belt, at the same time devoted to stopping all high-rise development. Those two can’t be achieved together, unless the housing target changes. It’s just simple arithmetic. And that housing target is not going to change, full stop. (A subject to which we will return next week.) And finally, if the targets don’t change, you can’t just ignore them – as we have seen, there are serious consequences.

So this is gesture politics, and is already having precisely the opposite result.

Talk about shooting oneself in the foot…

* All the Preferred Options documents can be read at

https://spelthorne.gov.uk/article/19901/Preferred-Options-Consultation-documents

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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.

Home Truths #1

Why the Spelthorne housing target is not going to be reduced …

The overall target

Since 2017, the government has had a housing target for England of 300 000 dwellings per year. It has never been achieved, but it is obviously in the interests of the construction industry that this target is as large as possible.

This overall target of 300 000 dwellings per year is not going to be reduced. There is too much political capital invested in it.

Source: Transparency International; Companies House, Electoral Commission

The geographical distribution

The question then becomes, where are these 300 000 dwellings going to be built?

The new Standard Method of calculating the housing requirement, which local authorities must follow in drawing up their Local Plans, was introduced in September 2017. Using that method, Spelthorne’s housing requirement was set at 611 per year – a massive increase from the previous target of 166 per year.

There was widespread dissatisfaction with the new increased figures across the country. So in August 2020, Whitehall began a consultation about a change to the Standard Method, which was intended to shift the requirement to build away from those areas from which the complaints had emanated. Spelthorne would have been a beneficiary of this revised Standard Method. The annual requirement, had it been implemented, would have fallen from 611 to 489 per year – still a very large increase from 166, but not quite so bad. Not everyone was so fortunate, however. The target for Elmbridge Council, just across the river from us, went up even more under the revised methodology.

There were even more complaints countrywide about the revised Standard Method, and it was shelved in December 2020.

It is highly unlikely that there will be any future England-wide changes to the Standard Method.

Spelthorne’s target therefore remains 611 dwellings per year.

Spelthorne as a special case

There is a view among some Spelthorne Councillors that somehow a special plea to Whitehall will result in our housing target being reduced. A special exercise in “Visioning” was undertaken last year, at some expense in time lost, and money spent, to try and reinforce this view. But attempts at special pleading are nothing new. Attempts to persuade Whitehall have been going on for more than 3 ½ years, since July 2018. All the related correspondence can be read at:
https://spelthorne.gov.uk/article/20561/Council-challenge-the-Government-and-local-MP-on-housing-numbers

It would be marvellous if these targets were suddenly reduced, but so far these repeated approaches by Spelthorne to Whitehall have had no effect whatsoever. It is a mystery to us as to why people think that YET another attempt will be successful.

And all the while the clock is ticking.

The End is Near

Finally, after years in production, the new Local Plan will soon be going through its final stages. The last public consultation on the completed Local Plan is scheduled for April/May this year. Thereafter, the Plan and the responses to the consultation will be sent to the Planning Inspectorate, who will prepare the final leg of the Local Plan’s journey, through the Examination in Public.

KKG have not been standing idly by. Over recent months we have been busy preparing where we can for this last consultation and the Examination in Public. Our QC has been very helpful in this, and we fully expect that he will be representing KKG, and all of us, in that public forum.

However, there are still a few councillors who are intent in further delaying this already long-delayed Local Plan process. They appear to have got it into their minds that there exists a silver bullet, whereby the outside pressure on this Borough (and every other Borough in the country) to build large amounts of housing can somehow be made to disappear.

Like all magical solutions, this is an illusion.

It matters not that a number of national politicians have said that the housing targets set by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will be reduced. Such political pronouncements have no force in planning law, and there is no sign of any change emanating from the Department. Indeed, a previous approach by Spelthorne to the Department to argue for a reduction in housing targets was rebuffed.

In the meantime, because Spelthorne is so far behind schedule in producing a Local Plan, it is unable to demonstrate that is has a five-year plan to meet these housing targets. Which means that this Borough has little defence against developers wanting to build in this Borough.

The huge risk which the Borough is taking by not having a new Local Plan is clearly demonstrated by the very recent case of the planned Inland Homes development of 206 dwellings at the Old Telephone Exchange in central Staines. The planning application was refused by the Council’s Planning Committee. The developer took that refusal on appeal, and the Planning Inspector handed down his decision on 17 January. We quote from paragraph 76 of the Planning Balance section of the Inspector’s decision:

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. Making beneficial use of a prominent town centre site which has been unused for a number of years and which detracts from the character and appearance of the area, also adds significantly to the case for the proposal. I have set out a number of other benefits of the proposal which add varying degrees of weight in the overall balance.

Much as we might not like it, that is the reality.

Silver bullets? Please…

GO

The meeting to try and sort out the direction of our Local Plan took place last Tuesday evening (see https://keepkemptongreen.com/2021/07/09/time-for-the-fighting-to-stop/ )

To be frank, it is some time since KKG have listened to such a dis-spiriting display of political self-indulgence.

Rather than address the motion on the agenda (see the link above), an alternative “visioning” motion, emanating from, of all places, the new Leader and his Deputy, was put up for discussion.

This motion, on its own, would kick this particular can – getting the Local Plan moving again – down the road until October at the very least, so that yet another task group, an “envisioning” committee chaired by an outside facilitator, can generate a substantial contribution to global warming.

What a discussion ensued. Several hours of political manoeuvring and posturing followed (all in advance of the by-election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of the leader of the Green faction). Not by all councillors, but by enough of them to make a difference.

So, while the clock on our Local Plan is ticking very loudly, and we have already lost more than a year’s progress towards finishing it because of this council-wide faction fighting, the meeting last night eventually decided to adopt both motions, finally allowing the Planning Officers to get work moving again, but with the imminent threat that the whole thing could come to a standstill again in three months’ time. Perhaps sooner.

And as this is going on, councillors have been telling residents that it is possible to remove all Green Belt from the Local Plan process, at the same time as ruling out any high-rise blocks of flats, and all the while ignoring the housing targets sent down from central government. This is unadulterated snake-oil, and they know it.

Quite how the Planning Officers put up with this obstructionism is difficult to understand. The current planning team in charge of the Local Plan have done a highly commendable job in the face of what is simply juvenile behaviour by councillors.

In any decent system, those councillors who have been continually frustrating the work of the Planning Office would resign.

They know who they are. Just go.

Time for the fighting to stop

Next week, on 13 July, the Spelthorne Environment and Sustainability Committee will meet to address the question of the future strategy for OUR Local Plan. The motion before the committee will be to:

“Agree the revised strategy for the new Local Plan to meet our housing need by releasing a small amount of Green Belt, reducing the impact on Staines by not including an additional allocation, including opportunities to reduce some building heights in Staines if this is the outcome of the Staines Development Framework consultation and allow for more family homes with gardens to be built.”

The background is that the last year has been marked by party political fighting on a scale we haven’t seen in this borough for decades. As a direct result, within the space of a year, a year’s progress in the development of our Local Plan has been lost.

From the offices of the large landowners in this Borough, this must be most enjoyable viewing. For as we all know – even if some of us will not admit it – a council that is in such disarray that it can’t make any progress in completing its Local Plan is inviting the Planning Inspectorate to step in and do the work for it. For the developers, this looks like all their Christmas dinners come at once. You can almost hear them rattling the carving tools in anticipation.

It is no use hoping, as some have been, that Secretary of State Jenrick will suddenly have an overnight conversion to reducing the housing targets. It is no use pretending, as some have been pretending, that all Spelthorne’s Green Belt sites can be withdrawn from consideration for development. It is no use claiming, as some have been claiming, that this Borough can work up a Local Plan in a way which does not comply with the standard method. Any Planning QC will tell you that these options are not possible. So, too, the council’s own Planning Officers.

A Planning Inspector would make a simple ruling. At the very least, this Borough would be sent back to do the whole process again. Look what happened in Runnymede a few years ago. But the real risk is that the Inspector’s penalty would be much more severe: pretending we can go it alone is a sure way to lose even greater swathes of our Green Belt than we otherwise would – a decision the Inspector will make and against which we will have no possibility of appeal.

KKG urges the members of the Environment and Sustainability Committee to vote to approve this motion.

We also urge you all – the people who have followed what KKG has successfully done to protect Green Belt for nearly a decade – to contact the members of the Environment and Sustainability Committee and encourage them to approve this motion. This is urgent: this motion became public on 8 July, and the meeting is on 13 July.

The councillors’ contact emails are:

Councillor Ian Beardsmore  (Chairman) cllr.beardsmore@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Olivia Rybinski  (Vice-Chairman) cllr.rybinski@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor John Doran   cllr.jdoran@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Tom Fidler   cllr.fidler@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Nick Gething   cllr.gething@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Michele Gibson   cllr.gibson@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Kathy Grant   cllr.grant@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Naz Islam   cllr.islam@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Thomas Lagden   cllr.lagden@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Vivienne Leighton   cllr.leighton@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Jim McIlroy   cllr.mcilroy@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Sinead Mooney   cllr.mooney@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Bob Noble   cllr.noble@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Joanne Sexton   cllr.sexton@spelthorne.gov.uk

Councillor Veena Siva   cllr.siva@spelthorne.gov.uk

And we urge councillors of all stripes to end this ceaseless fighting and put the people of this borough first.

Open gardens and other things

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Just a short note to let you know that we have had to postpone (again…) the KKG Open Gardens until Sunday 12 June 2022. We will keep you posted about details of this, and other fundraisers, closer to the events.

Spelthorne Council has now moved to a new regime – a committee system, rather than the “Cabinet” government of the past several years. Committee chairs have now been apportioned by a negotiated proportional system, (until, of course they are changed because of the inherent instability of the current coalition control of the Council).

We have already been in contact with the members of the Local Plan Working Party – now renamed the Local Plan Task Group – to press our case that the lack of progress in drawing up our Local Plan over the last year means that a number of risks have increased, not least the possibility that a Planning Inspector could be sent in to write our Local Plan for us if the Council do not get a move on. We have been assured by the Chair of the Party/Group that progress will be made in short order.

We look forward to seeing the hard evidence of that.