Five-Year Housing Land Supply

I am writing this blog post to try and put into layman’s terms what is meant by the five-year housing land supply.  I am writing this in response to the approach Berkeley Homes have made regarding a planning application they want to put in for approx. 375 homes on the land between Blagrove Lane, Doles Lane and Barkham Road.  Challenging the local planning authority on its five-year land supply will be a key argument Berkeley Homes are likely to make, so I wanted to attempt to explain what it means. 

Let me begin by stating that I’m not a planning expert.  Should any questions arise out of this blog, I will do my best to answer them, but most likely I will need to seek advice from a planning expert. 

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was introduced in 2012, and one of the objectives is to significantly boost the supply of new homes.  In line with this policy, planning authorities need to establish what the need for new homes is in their borough through a government metric (housing quota) and then put a plan in place to deliver that quota.  This plan, referred to as the Local Plan, typically covers a 10-to-15-year period, and Wokingham is in the process of updating their local plan.  Developing a local plan is a lengthy process, taking years, and a lot can change over the course of a local plan with many planning authorities underdelivering on their housing quotas. 

The government took the view that making people wait for new homes whilst new plans come into effect, when there is an immediate need and suitable sites available, makes no sense.  As such, the NPPF requires local planning authorities to demonstrate a five-year supply of land for housing (5 x the annual housing quota) which needs to be updated annually.  These sites need to be specific deliverable sites and need to include a 5% buffer.  This figure could include an additional 20% if there has been previous significant under delivery of housing.  The NPPF however is silent regarding previous over delivery of housing. 

If a planning authority cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of land, instead of planning applications being decided based on what local policies say, national policies will take precedence.  This means that the planning authority loses control over where new homes are built.  As long as a site is considered sustainable, planning permission will most likely be granted even if it’s a site the planning authority does not want development on. 

What is meant by ‘deliverable?’

The NPPF states that “to be considered deliverable, sites for housing 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.  In particular:

a) sites which do not involve major development and have planning permission, and all sites with detailed planning permission, should be considered deliverable until permission expires, unless there is clear evidence that homes will not be delivered within five years (for example because they are no longer viable, there is no longer a demand for the type of units or sites have long term phasing plans).

b) where 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, it should only be considered deliverable where there is clear evidence that housing completions will begin on site within five years.”

In short, a site that has detailed planning permission, or a small site that has outline permission is classed as deliverable.  Evidence would need to be demonstrated for a large site with outline permission to demonstrate that it’s deliverable within 5 years. 

Wokingham’s Situation

The housing quota for Wokingham Borough is currently 768 dwellings per annum.  With the 5% buffer, this brings that figure to 806.4 dwellings per annum, which is 4,032 over 5 years.  Please note that this is based on the figures starting 1st April 2021 to 31st March 2026.  Every year, this is recalculated. 

WBC’s assessment is that 4,115 dwellings were classed as deliverable over this 5-year period demonstrating 5.1 years of supply.  We are just about to start a new year where all of this assessment will be done again, as it needs to be updated annually.  It will be several weeks until we know the outcome of this, so please bear in mind that these figures will shift in due course. 

The Council’s assessment will be challenged on appeal when developers take their proposals to the planning inspector once the planning authority has rejected it.  In all but one case, the Council has successfully defended its assessment of deliverable sites.  In one recent appeal, the planning inspector disagreed and concluded that some of the sites were not deliverable and stated that the council actually had a 4.84-year supply of deliverable housing.  However, the inspector did state that this was modest and that there was a local ‘strong performance on housing delivery.’  The appeal was dismissed. 

There has also been information in the press about the high level of house building in recent years in the borough.  The table below has the number of dwellings built per year:

YearDwellings Completed
2016/17967
2017/181,528
2018/191,284
2018/201,555
2020/211,167

As I noted earlier, the NPPF is silent on previous over delivery.  The timing of delivery of housing is not in the Council’s control but is controlled by developers.  The recent high level of delivery of housing in the borough means that the bank of sites with planning permission has reduced quite quickly.  Unfortunately, whilst the planning system is supposed to be plan-led, this five-year land supply system undermines the plan-led process because it creates opportunities for speculative development.  In my opinion and I’m sure many others, the government needs to address the issue and ensure that over delivery is a key consideration. 

I am, like many of you I’m sure, waiting with bated breath for the council’s assessment for 1st April 2022 to 31st March 2027. 

Preparing for the appeal of the Woodcray planning application.

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