Developers are trying to get their own way on housebuilding in Shropshire by undermining the local plan

Ludlow has a quota of 875 new homes built under Shropshire Council’s blueprint for housing across the county, SAMDev. Now, property specialist Berrys is claiming the numbers here and elsewhere in Shropshire are only a minimum.

The developers Berrys represents are not interested in building more houses than we are planning in Shropshire. There’s no market for huge numbers of homes and the developers don’t have the money to build them. What Berrys’ clients want is to build houses on the sites they own or retain options on.They want to build them regardless of whether these sites meet local needs or are in the local plan.

In its press release today, Berrys has avoided mentioning its report in August that claimed that Shropshire Council had ‘gerrymandered’ its five year land supply. The press release concentrates on whether Shropshire Council can place a cap on the number of homes to be built in villages and towns like Ludlow. It claims the council is not allowed to cap housing numbers for individual settlements under the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Berrys say that under the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the NPPF:

“If a village is deemed acceptable for development, you can’t use a target number to put a ceiling on growth.”

I don’t think that is for one minute right. It certainly not possible to put an absolute cap on housing numbers anywhere, as reported on this blog back in July. But it doesn’t mean that villages and towns declared suitable for development will be subject to a free-for-all as Berrys suggests. The NPPF champions plan-led development as well as the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

The Berrys press release uses an example of a local plan in Cheshire that has just been examined by a planning inspector:

“The Inspector on the Cheshire West and Chester Plan has required that the Plan be changed so that all target numbers are changed from being ‘in the region of’ a specific number to ‘at least’ that number.”

This is seen by Berrys as an “initial sign” that putting a number on the growth of small villages is becoming seen as unacceptable by the planning inspectorate. Note that phrase initial sign. As far I can recollect, Cheshire West and Cheshire is the first time an inspector has recommended a comprehensive revision of a local plan to insist that housing numbers are a minimum. The Cheshire case might give developers hope, but it certainly not a trend. Almost every week, local plans allocating housing numbers to individual settlements are being approved across the country . That’s what the local plan process is meant to do.

There is a trend for planning inspectors to bump up housing numbers when they examine local plans. That’s partly because housing need calculations are continually shifting (see More technical stuff). It’s also because councillors are under pressure from communities not to swamp their villages and towns with new homes. That’s not really the case here in Shropshire where the level of disagreement about housing numbers is low compared to other parts of the country. We’ve also taken on a higher level of housing growth than required by population projections. Whether the county has got it right will be resolved at the forthcoming examination of Shropshire Council’s SAMDev.

The argument put forward by Berrys is not really about housing numbers. Developers in this county are not trying to get local plan numbers bumped up as is happening elsewhere. In Shropshire, they just want to build houses in different places. Developers don’t want to build small homes on brownfield sites in struggling market towns. They don’t want to build low cost affordable housing, though they must pay a levy towards it. They are looking to build ‘executive homes’ in ‘cute villages’ and ‘good looking’ market towns.

Above all, they don’t want to build housing where a local plan tells them they should, even though we we have spent years negotiating the plan.

The developers are not trying to shape places. They are not trying to build communities. Their focus is their own bottom line. That’s what today’s press release from Berrys and its rebuttal of five year land supply are really about.

I believe this county needs more housing. It has to be the right sort of housing in the right place, not where developers will most profit from it. That’s why we put so much effort into local plans like SAMDev.

See also this linked post: Developers gang up to claim Shropshire Council is ‘gerrymandering’ its housing land supply figures.

More technical stuff

It is very hard to get land supply numbers right. There is no science behind the calculations, just imperfect demographic projections and assumed social trends which are converted into housing needs.

In April 2013, for example, the Office of National Statistics revised the projected growth in households downwards. That data showed that Shropshire is projected to grow by 24,000 households between 2006 and 2026 (.xls). Our core strategy plans for 27,500 households in that period, so we have quite a bit of a buffer. The Shropshire Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment has identified sites for 28,409 homes by 2026, so again we have a bit of leeway for undelivered sites. Although there is little issue over supply of housing sites to 2026, but there are doubts whether we have a five year land supply at present.