A slow-down in house-building due to the coronavirus crisis could see councils unfairly penalised, and communities denied a say in new developments under current planning rules, a new survey by the District Councils’ Network warns today.
With construction on new homes almost coming to a stand-still in the recent months, many councils fear, through no fault of their own, that they may fall short of meeting their housing targets, meaning local plans designating where development can take place and agreed by local residents can be ignored by developers.
This is despite council planning departments continuing to work and approve housing schemes during the lockdown.
The DCN, which represents 187 district councils in England with responsibility for planning and housebuilding, is warning that this risks opening the door to speculative developments taking place beyond the control and oversight of local communities.
Ahead of the expected publication of proposed planning reforms this week, it is calling on the Government to take a pragmatic approach to support councils, and amend existing planning guidelines.
This comes as the DCN’s new survey found that over half (57 per cent) of respondents were very concerned about the impact of coronavirus on being able to sustain a supply of land for housing over the next five years – known as the five-year land supply.
As a result of not having a land supply, local planning policies will not apply and areas could see developments which are refused following for example, objections from local residents, able to proceed on appeal.
Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of responding councils also fear they would not meet the Government’s housing delivery test, which sets targets on house building in local areas.
This would mean new developments would be subject to nationally-defined planning policies as opposed to local plans agreed by local communities.
The DCN is calling for the current planning guidelines to be changed to take account of the house-building slow-down caused by coronavirus, so councils are not unfairly penalised.
This should include a suspension of the five-year land supply and housing delivery test requirements.
In spite of the challenges of COVID-19, councils have adapted and ensured that the planning system has been able to continue functioning as normally as possible. They now need government to support them with these recommended changes.
Cllr Mark Crane, DCN lead member for stronger economies, said: “Councils have serious concerns that they will be unfairly penalised as a result of house-building slowing down because of the coronavirus crisis.
“The loss of new homes built will have a significant impact on the five-year land supply, which without protection would allow developers to bypass local community wishes.
“We need the Government to focus on achieving delivery of house-building on allocated sites and avoid the corrosive effects of speculative development where communities don’t have a say.
“District councils want to play a leading role in the national recovery from the pandemic and building desperately-needed homes again will be a vital part of this.
“But we cannot compromise on the quality of new homes and places and side-line public consultation.
“This is why we need the Government to step in and suspend the five year land supply and Housing Delivery Test requirements, and devolve the tools for councils invest in the infrastructure and building that will create jobs and homes.”