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Agenda item

Maidstone Local Plan Review Update and the Housing Land Supply Position 2020

Minutes:

The Principal Planning Officer introduced the report that outlined the proposed changes to the Planning system, which included a change to the standard methodology that was used to calculate the minimum housing requirement that any Local Plan must make provision for. This was a nationally set formula, with the proposals in the process of a public consultation process.

 

The Interim Local Review Director and Strategic Planning Manager provided an urgent update through a presentation to the Committee. Both officers emphasised that none of the options presented were without risks and would be subject to change dependent on the publication date of the new standard methodology.

 

The Strategic Planning Manager explained that two interim measures had been proposed by the government that would allow a Local Authority to maintain their existing housing figures; that the Regulation 19 Draft Local Plan Review (LPR) consultation commenced within three months of the standard methodology’s implementation and that the submission of the Local Plan commenced within nine months of its implementation. The standard methodology would be implemented at an unknown point between 30 November 2020 and 30 April 2021 and the Strategic Planning Manager explained the timescale for the interim measures based on each month.

 

The current Local Development Scheme timescale was outlined, whereby the Regulation 18b(i) consultation on the spatial preferred approaches would occur in October 2020, the Regulation 18b(ii) consultation on the non-spatial approaches would occur in February 2021 and the Regulation 19 consultation would occur in December 2021. The plan would be examined between June and July 2022 and adopted in October 2022. It was noted that resources had recently been directed to understanding and responding to the proposed government planning reforms, with the October 2022 adoption date likely to be delayed as a result.  Four options were then outlined with specific reference to the projected timescales of each option.

 

Option One – To continue with the current work schedule and adapt to the potential 1,569 per annum figure. The significance of the increased figure on the current evidence base and potential spatial strategy, would mean that a new Regulation 18 consultation would likely be required. This would take place in December 2021, with the necessary stages completed for the adoption of the plan in October 2023.

 

Option Two – A Slim-lined and consolidated version of the Regulation 18b consultation to take place in December 2020, with an early Regulation 19 consultation to take place in June 2021. If the standard methodology was not released until March 2021, this option would allow the Council to respond to the proposed interim arrangements. The necessary stages would be completed for adoption of the plan in October 2022.

 

Option Three – That an early Regulation 19 consultation is undertaken in June 2021, with the necessary stages completed for adoption of the plan in October 2022. This would allow for further evidence collection, as the Regulation 18b consultation on the preferred approaches would not occur.

 

Option Four – That an earlier Regulation 19 consultation process is undertaken with two different timelines outlined:

 

·  If the consultation began in February 2021, adoption would occur in August 2022. If the updated standard methodology was released between November – December 2020, the Council would be able to meet the interim arrangements.

 

·  If the consultation began in May 2021, adoption would occur in August 2022. This would allow the Council to meet the interim arrangements if the updated standard methodology was released in January 2021. In this scenario, the pre-election period would have been considered.

 

The Committee were informed that the new standard methodology would likely result in a 5,325 unit increase between 2022-2037, based on an assumed increased figure of 1,569 from the current 1,214 annual figure used in the LPR. This figure was not definitive. The minimum housing figure that the Council had to fulfil was 883 per annum, with the projected increase amounting to 11,115 additional units over the period. If the figure was enforced, it was possible that a new Call for Sites process would have to be conducted and the revised Local Plan would have to be reconfigured.

 

The types of risk associated with the proposals included legal risk, financial and resource-based risk, meeting the tests of soundness, risks associated with the proposed timelines and political risks.

 

The legal risks concerned that proper evidence would need to be collated as part of the consultation process, otherwise upon consideration by the Inspector the plan may not be sound. The Council would be at risk of judicial review upon submission of the plan if the legal conditions had not been fulfilled. This included that a Sustainability Appraisal and Strategic Environmental Assessment must be performed.

 

The finance and resource-based risk included that if the timeframe for conducting the LPR was compressed then the internal and external resources required would not produce work of sufficient quality. It was noted that a sector-wide increase in demand could be caused as Local Authorities across England would be facing equal considerations.

 

Within the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) there were four tests of soundness that must be complied with; positively prepared, justified, effective, consistent with National Policy. Any deviation from compliance would be considered through public challenge during the examination process or through consideration by the Inspector at submission.

 

A summary table of the Local Plan Review tasks was presented, with the timescales of completion shown against three stages; the pre-writing of policies which took place through evidence collection, policy drafting and post-policy drafting. The Committee were reminded that the 1569 consultation figure and interim arrangements proposed were not definitive and that if the updated standard methodology was released in early 2021, any actions taken would need to be considered alongside the pre-election restricted publicity period.

 

Political risk was associated with all of the options presented and included failure to agree a spatial strategy by Autumn 2020 for the Regulation 19 consultation to take place in June 2021, failure to agree the required change in the Statement of Community Involvement (SCI), to allow a streamlined Regulation 18b consultation and a change in elected Members from the May 2021 elections. The reputational risk to the Council if the increasing housing target had to be accepted was highlighted. 

 

The Strategic Planning Manager then highlighted the risks by category; early, 2021 and 2022/23.

 

The four options presented were again summarised with the risks pertinent to each scenario further emphasised to the Committee. Option One had the lowest risk but was not without risk, as there could be a period of a year whereby the Council would not have a Local Plan. Option Two would allow for the 1,214 figure to be maintained, however the 1,569 figure was more likely than in option three. Option Three was associated with the risk of failing to meet the tests of soundness, but the 1,214 would be achievable if the new standard methodology was released before March 2021 and failure throughout the process was avoided.  Option Four was at high risk of failing to meet the test of soundness.

 

The Principal Planning Officer introduced the Housing Land Supply Position 2020 report. The Council had recorded 1304 completed dwellings between 1 April 2019 – 31 March 2020, with the full list shown in Appendix 1 of the report. The Council was obligated to report the number of completions as a percentage against the three-year housing delivery requirement to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). This year’s performance totalled 141% which would be confirmed by the MHCLG in November 2020 and acted to provide protection against government penalties associated with under-delivery and planning by appeal.

 

It was noted that each year the Council must identify specific deliverable sites to provide a minimum of five-years’ worth of housing against the requirement as set out in the Local Plan. This figure may alter each year dependant on the level of undersupply and buffers applicable. This year’s 5-year supply is 4814 units that included a shortfall of 170 units and a 5% buffer of 229 units, which was shown in Table 1.2 of the report. The sites identified provided for 6.1 years of supply, with all sites shown in Appendix 2 of the report.

 

Due to the Coronavirus pandemic and Brexit negotiations, delivery rates over the next 5-years had been reduced by 20%. The Council had maintained a strong position with regard to Housing Land Supply due to the adopted Local Plan.

 

The Head of Planning and Development highlighted that the 5-year housing delivery supply test may be removed as part of the governments ‘Planning for the Future’ White Paper, whilst the 3-year test would remain. The Strategic Planning Manager confirmed that if a new Local Plan was adopted, the new housing figure would be included each year within the 3-year test until the previous figure was absent from the calculations.

 

The options outlined were discussed at length. The importance of a robust evidence base was mentioned throughout, with the Head of Planning and Development having noted that the Inspector would undertake a rigorous analysis on the plan submitted which included the evidence base. Several Members expressed their preference to move straight to Regulation 19, in order that if the updated standard methodology was implemented earlier than expected, the Council would be able to maintain the 1,214 annual housing figure. However, it was felt that option two would enable a higher standard of evidence base than options three and four.

 

The Interim Local Plan Review Director confirmed that if the higher figure, which resulted from the updated standard methodology was implemented, that the Regulation 18b processes would have to be repeated.

 

RESOLVED: That

 

1.  The information provided within the Housing Land Supply Position 2020 report be noted;

 

2.  Officers be instructed to revise the Council’s current Local Development Scheme (LDS) in a manner which achieves a Preferred Approaches Consultation (Under Regulation 18b)  and a Publication Draft Regulation 19 Consultation on its current Local Plan Review by no later than June 2021 with the revised LDS to be brought to the meeting on the 22 September 2020 for consideration by the Committee;

 

3.  In order to facilitate the Preferred Approaches Consultation(Under Regulation 18b), a revised Statement of Community Involvement be brought for consideration by the Committee, alongside the revised LDS with a reduced timescale for public consultation to enable the June 2021 timescale to be met; and   

 

4.  Officers be instructed to bring the consultation responses to current Government consultation around both the proposed changes to the planning system and the ‘Planning For The Future’ White Paper on behalf of the Council for consideration at the meeting of this Committee on 22 September 2020 for consideration. 

 

Councillor Garten requested that his dissent with the resolution be noted.

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