What hope for fair planning locally, as survey damns broken planning system?
The National Trust and Local Government Information Trust (LGiU) have just announced the results of a damning survey of the current planning system in which 72% of ward councillors nationally said that the current planning system is biassed in favour of developers at the expense of local communities.
The Gladman application lacks the necessary infrastructure to support it and is excluded from the South Oxfordshire plan. Yet could it still be a victim of this national planning disaster?
The site is under a kilometre from the Chilterns AONB, on land which a group of local parish councils have been saying for years should be included in this protected area. Their hopes of a change in boundaries have been stymied by what many believe is a deliberate logjam in the system. No green belt designation exists locally, in spite of it being an obvious area for protection.
Furthermore, according to the NT/LGiU survey, only 18 per cent of councillors think design has improved since the Government's National Planning Policy Framework was published. 88% of respondents said that the loosening of planning restrictions has had a negative effect.
The NT and LGiU are calling for a 'SMART approach to meeting housing need that allows councils to recognise local constraints and focuses development in the most appropriate areas'. CAGE is concerned these vital constraints may be ignored in Eye & Dunsden simply because the five year housing supply has been questioned in the county.
This survey is fierce criticism of the Government's five year old overhaul of the planning system. In many local authorities across England, including South Oxfordshire, the local planning system is now in disarray as a result of hundreds of challenges by speculative developers.
Housing supply figures have been repeatedly challenged because of the failure of the system. Many local authorities lack both the funds and the nerve to respond adequately. They are running scared of being put into 'special measures' if more than 20% of their major applications decisions are overturned on appeal.
According to an April 2016 report by Savills, one third of local planning authorities in England do not have NPPF compliant plans.
Furthermore they identify that 26% of local authorities in England have a 'failed' five year housing land supply.
As a result, supposedly objectively assessed statements of housing need – are being torn up in favour of a catch-all 'presumption in favour of [sustainable] development'. Notwithstanding Government guidance, 'sustainable' is a weasel word which is open to myriad interpretations.
This is a crisis requiring urgent remedial action.
CAGE does not dispute the need for new houses. It simply wants them to be sited where the local infrastructure can support them – on sites with strong local support. This means there should be a presumption in favour of development within existing communities, rather than breaking boundaries into rural land.
The Government's promise that new developments will be 'locally led' appears to be failing in this part of South Oxfordshire.
Neighbourhood plans require an enormous investment of time and effort on the part of volunteer parish councillors. A tiny parish like Eye & Dunsden consists of just 140 houses and simply does not have the resources to produce a neighbourhood plan. Aggressive development companies like Gladman are attempting to exploit this weakness.
Even in larger local communities like Sonning Common and Henley, Neighbourhood Plans have come under aggressive challenge by developers. These challenges put shareholder profit ahead of the good of local communities.
A series of planning inspectorate judgements in South Oxfordshire continue to dispute the legitimacy of the five year housing supply figures locally, with South Oxfordshire acknowledging the problem in May 2016.
CAGE hopes that common sense and a genuine commitment to localism will prevail in the decision on the Gladman application. For the reasons stated in our objections, whatever the supposed benefits to the land supply figures from this site, the price is simply too high to pay.
SODC presentation on planning appeals (November 2015)
Inspector's report Cholsey, March 2016
Inspector's report Chinnor, March 2016
Inspector's report Stadhampton, May 2016
Inspector's report Tetsworth, June 2016
Oxfordshire Growth Board close to agreement on targets (September 2016)