Babergh / Mid Suffolk have announced that their Local Plan is again delayed, this time until the end of 2021 ‘at the earliest’.
This is not a surprise. The authority has a long history of repeated failures to achieve planning targets. In the past our clients have benefitted from this with speculative (edge of settlement, or outside of settlement) applications for new homes being granted or being granted after we have won the appeal. More on this later.
With the failure to complete the Local Plan the council is unable to demonstrate it is planning sufficient housing for future needs. Both Mid Suffolk and Babergh are in possession of current Local Plans which are intended to set out the development strategies of the areas. These Local Plans contain policies concerned with the supply and location of housing – these policies dictate which type of houses can be built in which types of settlements. They also prevent the building of new homes in places which the Local Authorities consider would be “unsustainable”; this might be the open countryside or a small, poorly-serviced village. A number of these important local housing policies, however, have recently been confirmed by the government to be “out-of-date”. This means they hold considerably less weight in the decision-making process and developments in conflict with them are far more likely to be approved.
Settlement boundaries (or “village envelope”, “built-up area boundary”, “settlement limits” etc.) are a well-known planning tool used by Local Authorities, including Babergh, to direct development to certain areas and prevent development in other parts. Generally speaking, settlement boundaries consist of a line drawn around a village, town or other settlement – development being allowed inside the line but resisted outside of its confines. For a long time, the planners at Babergh maintained that their local housing policies prevented any normal housing development from occurring outside of defined settlement boundaries – many developments were refused on this ground alone. An appeal decision issued in September 2019 wholly overturned this. The Inspector involved in this appeal agreed with the appellant that up-to-date local housing policy CS11 (concerned with the provision of new homes in and around “Core” and “Hinterland” villages) does not dictate that development must be contained within settlement boundaries but, rather, provides flexibility for the location of new homes in and around “Core” and “Hinterland” villages. This means that the council can no longer refuse new housing development which is outside of settlement boundaries but otherwise well-related to a Core or Hinterland village.
An additional concern for the authority is that in recent years the council has not been able to demonstrate a Five Years Housing Land Supply – a mandatory requirement of Government and has only recently been able to demonstrate it has through the work of speculative developers in effect doing the authorities work for them.
Further a recent appeal decision issued 30/06/2020 shed some additional noteworthy light on the application of up-to-date policy CS11. CS11 is an important strategic policy which contains various criteria with which all relevant development must accord. Amongst the most onerous of these criteria is a requirement that any new housing must “meet a proven local need”. Significantly, however, the inspector involved in the recent June 2020 appeal found that it was not “proportionate” to require this of small housing schemes – the council agreed! This appeal decision is now a “material planning consideration”, meaning the council can no longer reasonably require any small housing scheme (< 9 dwellings & <0.5ha) submitted under policy CS11 to demonstrate a “proven local need”.
All together with recent appeals going against the council, the Local Plan being demonstrably out of date, poor housing delivery in this Covid effected year and the Governments Housing Delivery Test getting harder this year it is time again to submit Outline Planning Applications across Babergh and Mid Suffolk for edge of settlement or out of settlement sites.