Dear Dr Sim,
Thank you for your letter of 2 March, co-signed by Michelle Coates and Wendy Sim, to the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP about the impact of housing development in Wealden. We have been asked to reply on behalf of the Secretary of State. We hope you will understand that, due to the quasi-judicial role of Ministers in the planning system, we are unable to comment on local issues or specific plans. We can, however, offer the following general comments to address the points you raise, which we hope you will find useful.
The Government is very conscious of the effect that development can have on local communities and on our environment. We recognise that it is important to strike a balance between enabling vital development and growth, including the new homes we need, while continuing to protect and enhance the natural environment. Through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), we have made clear that the purpose of the planning system is to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development. We know how important this is to people in Wealden, who rightly place a high value on the protection of their local environment.
Equally, there is no doubt that we have not been building enough homes to meet our country’s need for too long. To support working towards our target to deliver 300,000 homes per year and one million homes over this Parliament, it is important that local authorities plan positively to meet their full housing needs. Our NPPF introduced the standard method for calculating local housing need which makes the process of identifying the number of homes needed in an area simple, quick, and transparent.
We would emphasise that Local Housing Need does not set a target for the number of homes to be built. Local authorities decide their own housing requirement once they have considered their ability to meet their own needs in their area. This includes taking local circumstances and constraints, such as National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, into account and working with neighbouring authorities if it would be more appropriate for needs to be met elsewhere. This recognises that not everywhere will be able to meet their housing need in full.
We would like to assure you that we are monitoring the effect of the standard method, particularly as the impact of changes to the way we live and work and levelling up become clear.
We know how important it is to local communities that new housing is supported by the provision of infrastructure that benefits new and existing residents. The NPPF asks local planning authorities to plan for the required mix of housing and supporting infrastructure, such as schools and medical facilities, through the Local Plan process. Contributions from developers are important in helping to deliver infrastructure to support new homes. Local authorities can obtain contributions by charging a Community Infrastructure Levy on new development, and by negotiating section 106 planning obligations with a developer.
We are exploring the introduction of a new Infrastructure Levy, to replace the current system of developer contributions. It will be set in a way which delivers at least as much – if not more – value and onsite affordable housing as the system currently does, by capturing a greater share of the uplift in land value that comes with development. We are proposing to make the Levy a non-negotiable charge on a fixed proportion of the development value, to reduce negotiation issues that Section 106 agreements are prone to. With greater certainty around costs, and the ability to factor expenditure into the price paid for land, this should mean that affordable housing and infrastructure delivery is improved.
The absence of an up-to-date Local Plan does not mean that development should automatically be approved. This is particularly so if any adverse effects of doing so would clearly outweigh the benefits, or if the application of policies in the NPPF protecting important areas or assets provide a clear reason for refusing an application when assessed against policies in the NPPF as a whole. Each case is considered on its merits and only planning matters may be taken into consideration. There is no doubt, though, that an effective, up to date Local Plan, which includes a 5-year supply of deliverable housing sites, is the best way to protect an area from speculative and unwanted development
The Government has been clear that developers should build-out their planning permissions as quickly as possible. Where permission has been granted for new development, or where sites are stalled or experiencing delays to being delivered, it is for local authorities and developers to work closely together at a local level to overcome any barriers. There are instances where delays in starting or progressing sites may be avoidable and the Government wants to empower authorities with the tools to respond to such cases. Consequently, we are exploring options to support faster build out as part of the wider package of proposed planning reforms.
We note your view that housing number allocations should include permissions for new homes. To be considered a deliverable, and therefore to count towards a local planning authorities 5-year housing land supply,the Glossary to the NPPF states that housing sites should be available now; offer a suitable location for development now; and be achievable with a realistic prospect that housing will be delivered on the site within five years. It adds that sites which do not involve major development and have planning permission, and all sites with detailed planning permission, should be considered deliverable until a permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years.
Where, however, a site has outline planning permission for major development; has been allocated in a development plan; has a grant of permission in principle; or is identified on a brownfield register, the Glossary is clear that it should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.
Finally, you suggest that stamp duty exemptions should be considered for last time buyers to encourage downsizing. The majority of owners wishing to downsize are likely to have equity in their current property and are already exempt from Capital Gains Tax on any gain made on their main residence. For most of those looking to downsize, the Stamp Duty Land Tax (SDLT) due on the move-in property will be small. More generally, SDLT continues to be an important source of revenue, providing billions of pounds a year to support essential services which Government provides. Any new relief would be likely to carry a significant cost to the Exchequer.
With thanks again for writing in on these important matters.
Planning Policy Correspondence Team