It seems a long time ago that Gavin Barwell issued his ministerial statement in which he said that adopted neighbourhood plans that allocated sites for housing, and were part of the local development plan, would be viewed as up-to-date as long as the local planning authority had a three year housing land supply. This statement was greeted with enthusiasm by local authorities, town and parish councils and community groups.
A group of 18 leading housebuilders were not so keen, issuing a judicial review pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, on 30 December 2016. The letter sets out five grounds of challenge:
- Ground 1: Legitimate expectation of consultation prior to adoption of the ministerial statement;
- Ground 2: The policy as formulated is illogical, irrational and Wednesbury unreasonable when compared to the stated intention of the policy;
- Ground 3: The policy is predicated in part on evidence which is mistaken as to its facts, irrational and Wednesbury unreasonable, and all of which makes the evidence a material consideration which should not have been taken into account;
- Ground 4: The ministerial statement is irrational, perverse and Wednesbury unreasonable when set against Government policy to significantly boost the supply of housing; and
- Ground 5: Breach of the Public Sector Equality Duty.
The reply from the Treasury Solicitor of 20 January 2017 emphatically denied each ground of claim.
By the time that the claim for judicial review was issued, the group of house builders had risen to 25. We are awaiting a decision as to whether leave will be granted.
Earlier today Mr Javid published the long-awaited Housing White Paper which he commended to the House of Commons. The White Paper is called 'Fixing our broken housing market' and seeks to plan for the right homes in the right places, speed up housing supply and diversify the market. A lively debate followed Mr Javid's speech and whether or not party politics pops your weasel, it was, at the very least, interesting
With regard to neighbourhood planning, in the White Paper the Government re-emphasises its commitment to neighbourhood planning and that it wishes to further it by:
- Making further funding available to support neighbourhood planning groups from 2018-2020; and
- Amending planning policy so that neighbourhood planning groups can obtain a housing requirement figure from the local planning authority to help avoid delays.
In terms of influencing design, the Government says that there is public support for more homes if they are well designed and are in keeping with the local area. It also explains that neighbourhood plans should set out clear design expectations and should recognise the value of using widely accepted design standards. Lastly it also states that design should not be used as a reason for refusal if the design accords with the development plans.
There are numerous references in the White Paper to the provisions in the Neighbourhood Planning Bill, which help to achieve the aims set out in the White Paper.
At the top of this article, I mentioned that the ministerial statement was issued on 12 September 2016, which seems to be a long time ago. Particularly in the context of what has happened since, not least the inauguration of the 45th US President and his raft of Executive Orders and the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.
Now that the Housing White Paper has been published, the next important issue for neighbourhood planning is the outcome of the judicial review. Watch this space……..