The vast majority of recent ministerial decisions on housing appeals have been in Conservative seats and a disproportionate amount are being refused against inspectors’ advice.
64 of the 69 housing decisions (93%) called-in or recovered by Sajid Javid since last June were in Conservative constituencies. As the Conservatives control only 56% of English seats this suggests something other than the merit of the proposals is being taken account of.
The research, completed by Carl Dyer of solicitors Irwin Mitchell, also highlights 14 cases involving some 2,500 homes in which Javid refused permission against inspectors’ recommendations. All but one was in a Conservative constituency. The exception was Speaker John Bercow’s Buckingham constituency, where plans for 130 homes were refused in July following a call-in inquiry.
Closer analysis shows that those 2,500 homes accounted for around 15% of the total units in schemes decided by Javid. During his tenure, he has endorsed inspectors’ recommendations to refuse 25 schemes comprising around 6,000 homes but approved 28 schemes providing more than 8,000 units. In only two cases has he gone against a recommendation to refuse permission.
The research suggests that the recovery threshold for ministerial intervention, currently set at 150 units outside neighbourhood plan areas, should be raised to something like 1,000 homes.
Landform’s own very recent experience is of a scheme in Arun DC, approved locally for 50 units where there is only a 3.2 YHLS coupled to an outdated neighbourhood plan, that was called-in through local MP intervention. With a call-in threshold this low and a failing housing supply this is close to conceding that the local planning system is unfit for purpose.
Conflict with emerging or adopted neighbourhood development plans featured in 8 of the 14 schemes refused against inspectors’ advice. It appears that the SoS is giving more weight than his inspectors to neighbourhood plans. Given that NPs are more prevalent in the south of England, where the Conservatives have more seats, one might be forgiven for thinking that this was the intension, or at least a known consequence, behind NPs all along.
We all know that the housing shortage is not going away and however successful their efforts to retain local political support by opposing housing the Conservatives need to make sure they don’t lose the wider national battle to provide much needed housing for all of our society.
So, the square peg of national need meets the narrow round hole of local self-interest and the resulting impact is the politics we all encounter. However, I am beginning to think that this is increasingly recognised by the Conservative leadership and Sajid Javid’s statement over the weekend that the Government should borrow more to fund the costs of building 300,000 homes per year is proof of this. Let’s then see if the peg and hole can be fitted together.