Breathtaking Shropshire Council bungling on planning will trash fields and fail young people

Planning matters can be a little on the dull side, but bear with me a moment on this one. It really matters that Shropshire has gone from being one the best planned counties in the country to one of the worst in under a year.

A year ago, the government published the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) amid huge controversy. Communities across England are now finding that it overrides local wishes and local plans. And Shropshire has just joined the unhappy club of councils where many planning decisions are being made according to national rules and not local needs.

A year ago, Shropshire Council was assuring us that all was well in planning. As late as December last year, it was saying that everything was under control. Now it says that is not the case. After years of trying to get planning right in this county, we now learn Shropshire has stumbled into a planning free-for-all.

From here on, it is likely that housing will not be built where it is most needed, but where it is most resented. This is breathtaking bungling by the Council. It will trash precious green fields while failing to deliver housing for young people and families where it is desperately needed.

The issues concern housing land supply and the details are technical. But I am far from convinced that Shropshire is taking the right approach. It looks to me like it is opening up Shropshire to random developments unnecessarily.

Councils must provide a constant stream of land that is available for housing. Typically landowners will suggest sites. The public then comment on the options. After this, councillors agree where housing will be built. Shropshire has almost completed this process through a two-year long exercise known as the SAMDev (Site Allocations and Management Development). Thousands of Shropshire people have taken part in this exercise but their views now count for almost nothing.

National rules say that local councils must identify five years’ land supply plus five per cent. But where a council is not supplying enough housing, this rises to five years plus 20 per cent. If the council cannot identify enough housing land the “presumption in favour of sustainable development” in the National Planning Policy Framework comes into play. This means that almost any housing development goes ahead if it is deemed “sustainable” and does not break a handful of protection rules for heritage and countryside protection.

Housebuilding in Shropshire is definitely lower than planned and lower than we need. But I not at all convinced that we are yet in a position where the national rules override local planning. I think the council has given up the case for sensible planning far too early.

It looks like Shropshire Council’s Cabinet has been asleep on the job. I can find no record of the Cabinet having discussed this change in position.

This decision will not lead to more housing being built. But it does mean that many of those houses that will be built will go up in the wrong places.

I am really rather angry that Shropshire Council has let down rural villages that are set to see sprawling development of executive homes across the green fields near them. I am furious that it has let down young people who desperately need homes.

Shropshire Council has gone from having a firm grip of planning to losing control completely.

Technical notes

In December 2012, Shropshire Council said that was required to identify five years housing land supply plus 5% (Development Trends Report, December 2012). On 1 February 2013, the Council issued a new document that said that five years supply plus 20% is needed (Shropshire Five Year Housing Land Supply Statement – April 2012. Updated February 2013). This paper has not been considered by Shropshire Council’s Cabinet, despite being one of the most important planning documents the council has published in recent years.

The council believes that it must identify land for 7,871 houses to be built by 2017. It has identified land for 7,723 homes – very close to the total (the gap is almost certainly likely to be made up by windfall developments). However, Shropshire Council has decided that because house building has slumped – as it has everywhere – that it must have five years plus 20%. This means 9,445 homes. Because the council says that it cannot identify enough land for 9,445 homes at the moment, the presumption in favour of sustainable development comes into force. This means that national rules set out in the NPPF take place over the local plan (the Core Strategy 2006-26).

The NPPF says that councils should aim for five years land supply plus 20% , rather than 5%, only where there has “been a record of persistent under delivery of housing” (NPPF47). There is a national debate among planners on the meaning of “persistent under delivery” but I know of no council that has decided that a three year slowdown in building equates with “persistent under delivery” – except Shropshire.

Council officers have already cited the presumption in favour of sustainable development as reasons for allowing housing developments at Chirk Bank and Shifnal in spite restrictions in local plans.