March Ponderings - 2023

March Professional Ponderings

Many of you may be following the adventures of Jeremy Clarkson on Clarkson’s Farm, which apart from providing an insight into the challenges facing farmers, has also provided an insight into the challenges of the planning system. As pointed out by my colleague Peter Moore, never did we imagine that the outcome of a planning committee meeting could be such an edge of the seat cliffhanger! It does however illustrate the frustration that we often feel when looking for consistent and coherent planning determinations. The planning system always seems to be in a state of flux and that is no less true at the current time than ever before. We have reported before on the issues that we have been facing with under-resourced planning authorities failing to determine applications in a timely and reliable manner. That now seems to be compounded by a government looking to shore up its heartland vote in the wake of a looming general election. Whilst the need for new housing has not gone away, there does not seem to be a huge appetite at government level for encouraging contentious and often headline making new development in sensitive parts of the countryside. Local authorities, as a consequence, are tending to pause any new Development Plans whilst they absorb this new cautious approach.


The current attitude of the government is best exemplified in the recent consultation on the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). The NPPF sets out the government’s policy on Planning and is guidance to which all local plan and decision making must adhere. Although the changes being proposed are limited, they are significant, and have caused much consternation within the development industry. Indeed, Planning Resource reported in late January that 19 authorities withdrew or delayed their local plan amid proposed changes to the NPPF. The consultation closed on 2 March, and there will no doubt have been many representations submitted. Whether this will result in many revisions is yet to be seen, but the overall effect of the changes will be to lessen the scope for developers and promoters to challenge a council’s housing delivery and to provide a local planning authority with more control over the amount of housing that they are required to provide. The importance of Neighbourhood Plans will be enhanced and the Green Belt will become even more protected. The net outcome will be fewer houses being built, certainly in the next couple of years running up to a general election.


This will have interesting implications for the development land market, which as we reported in our January Ponderings is suffering a dent in confidence at the present time, but still has at its heart a shortage of available land. If market conditions improve as the year goes on, helped by more affordable mortgage rates, then we may find a renewed and keener interest in available sites.


Despite the apparent lull in plan making in certain authorities, a number of other authorities in our area are pressing on with the early stages of a Local Plan Review. We have highlighted before the importance of the Call for Sites Exercise which authorities will often carry out at an early stage of the plan making process. We are aware that both Huntingdonshire and Peterborough are contemplating carrying out a Call for Sites this spring and this will be an important opportunity to bring to the council’s attention any land which ought to be considered for development as the plan advances. With fewer opportunities to secure speculative consents for development on unallocated sites, the importance of securing an allocation in an adopted Local Plan will become paramount. We would invite anyone with land in these areas which they would like to see considered for allocation, to contact us and we can then advise on the best way by which the land might be promoted.


Planning is often a long term process and despite the apparent current hiatus, there will continue to be a need for a pipeline of available sites in the future to meet the requirements of a growing population. Planning promotion can never start too soon, and the importance of making representations as part of these Call for Sites exercises cannot be over – emphasised, even if it may be a future Local Plan before they bear fruit.                 


Andrew Middleditch – Salaried Partner

Contact our Planning and Development Team - Alistair Brodie, Peter Moore & Andrew Middleditch

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