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:
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.
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…
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.
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) firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Olivia Rybinski (Vice-Chairman) email@example.com
Councillor John Doran firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Tom Fidler email@example.com
Councillor Nick Gething firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Michele Gibson email@example.com
Councillor Kathy Grant firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Naz Islam email@example.com
Councillor Thomas Lagden firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Vivienne Leighton email@example.com
Councillor Jim McIlroy firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Sinead Mooney email@example.com
Councillor Bob Noble firstname.lastname@example.org
Councillor Joanne Sexton email@example.com
Councillor Veena Siva firstname.lastname@example.org
And we urge councillors of all stripes to end this ceaseless fighting and put the people of this borough first.
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.
As you will be aware, we have postponed our Open Gardens event until 13 June next year for obvious reasons. Please make a note of the new date in your diary.
We are also planning to hold some other fundraising events in the meantime.
The first event to be confirmed is a piano recital by the international pianist Panayiotis Gogos in the award-winning Riverside Arts Centre in Lower Sunbury on Saturday evening, 7 November.
Full details will be provided shortly, but, again, please make a note in your diary.