Developers gang up to claim Shropshire Council is ‘gerrymandering’ its housing land supply figures

Gerrymandering? Eleven housing developers and agents have clubbed together to fund a joint statement that accuses Shropshire Council of gerrymandering its housing data and of misinterpreting its own plans. It says the county has just three-and-a-half years’ land supply, compared to the five-and-a-half years the council claims it has.

rebuttal

I am not convinced that the report is correct in either detail or its overall conclusion. But the accusation of gerrymandering is astonishing. Is the developers’ case is so desperate, they have to resort to suggesting Shropshire Council has manipulated the data to get the result it wants?

gerrymandering“Gerrymandering to an unacceptable degree”

In my view, the council is not investing enough in its planning team. But if Shropshire Council has got it calculations wrong, it’s got them wrong. I can’t accept that it has been gerrymandering.

The arguments about land supply are dry and technical. It’s not that easy to calculate housing land supply in the absence of definitive government guidelines but the reality is stark. If we don’t have enough land identified to build housing in Shropshire for the next five years, national planning rules allow developers to push through housing sites whether they are in the county’s long term interest or not.

Among the backers of the report is Tesni, which has just resubmitted an application for 215 houses off Bromfield Road, Ludlow, which I describe as “heavy handed”.

Shropshire Council says it has identified enough land to build houses for around five-and-a-half years. The developers say they disagree, claiming that the council only has enough land supply for three-and-a-half years. Their rebuttal urges “the council to reflect the reality of the situation” and to give “open recognition that a shortfall in housing supply still exists.” It concludes that we only have 3.37 years against the council’s estimate of 5.47 years housing land supply requirement.

This is a big difference. In a stinging criticism, the report argues that the council is counting sites that are not yet ready to be included in the land supply:

“This attempt to get a year ahead amounts to gerrymandering with dates to an unacceptable degree.”

Gerrymandering – that’s a big accusation and I can’t agree with it. My feeling on reading the report is that the developers have over-egged their case.

The technicalities of housing land supply are set to be argued at the public examination into Shropshire Council’s planning blueprint, SAMDev later in the year. Until then, this report from developers will weaken the council’s defence against unplanned, unwanted developments around our towns and villages. It is ironic that this report is written by Helen Howie, formerly one of Shropshire Council’s top planning experts who left in April as the council continued cut back on key staff.

It is possible that the council’s position on five year land supply is no more than a house of cards. But I don’t think that this report is much better. It is the developers’ interests to cast doubt on the land supply position in Shropshire. That way, they destabilise coherent planning in Shropshire in favour of the finances of landowners and developers.

We need to build houses. Landowners and developers need to make a profit. We need to build by consensus and coherent planning, not through a development free-for-all. In my view this report doesn’t take us forward one jot towards a well-planned county.

See also this linked post: Developers are trying to get their own way on housebuilding in Shropshire by undermining the local plan.

The more technical stuff

To get a copy of the rebuttal report, search for 14/04455/OUT. The report is among the Planning Application Documents. The developers and agents backing the Berrys report are: Barratt/David Wilson Homes, Fletcher Homes, Galliers Homes, Monks Chartered Surveyors, Morris Property, Persimmon Homes, Peter Richards & Co, Shrewsbury Homes, Shropshire Homes Ltd, Taylor Wimpey, Tesni Properties Ltd.

The rebuttal report says that the five year land supply requirement is 11,129 dwellings, not 10,339 as the council claims. That means we need to find sites for another 790 houses in the next five years. It also argues that many sites are not viable or deliverable within the next five years, and the larger sites planned can’t be completed by 2019. It accuses Shropshire Council of counting on residential care homes and affordable housing sites that aren’t planned, available or deliverable. It concludes that we only have 67% of the five year housing land supply requirement, so that’s 3.37 years against the council’s estimate of 5.47 years.

The report claims that the council has made an error by including more than three hundred and forty homes in its calculations. It says another four hundred homes can’t be delivered within five years and more than one thousand homes across the county with planning permission may never be delivered at all. In all, the developers are claiming that the county is 1,740 dwellings short of its five year target.

The planning rules

Any local authority in England that fails to demonstrate that it has identified enough land for five years’ worth of housebuilding has its local plan suspended under currently planning rules.

If Shropshire does not have a five year land supply, its local plan, the core strategy, is out-of-date according to the rules in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It must approve housing schemes according to the presumption in favour of sustainable development, not the local plan. Sustainability has three dimensions according to the NPPF; economic, social and environmental.

Shropshire will have a five year land supply once the SAMDev is approved by the planning inspectorate. This is not expected to be until early 2015. But the “emerging” SAMDev will have growing influence over planning decisions after it is submitted to the inspectorate in July under what are known as prematurity rules.