No change there then

In a recent appeal decision (DCS Number 200-009-570)(same one as cited in A written inquiry) the inspector set out his thoughts on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the borough’s five-year housing land supply figures. It’s an interesting read so we thought we would share. Here’s what he says:

“It is difficult to disagree that, across the country as a whole, the Covid-19 pandemic has probably had an adverse impact on the capacity of the planning system over the last few months. The need for officers to work from home has meant fewer opportunities to carry out site visits and other essential tasks, and has reduced access to information and advice. Committee meetings have had to be held remotely. Contentious decisions, especially, have become more difficult to conclude. As a result, it does seem likely that in many areas the overall effect will have been to slow down the decision-making process, with a consequent lengthening of the timescales for developments, at all stages of the planning process.  However, it must also be recognised that when the overall picture is presented in this way, that picture is at present based mainly on generalised impressions and anecdotal evidence. At local level, it seems to me that the pattern of responses in different areas is likely to have been more varied. In Colchester, it is clear from the evidence before me that, despite the difficulties, continued progress has been made on a number of the major housing sites, and also on the emerging draft [local plan] and [neighbourhood plan]. As things stand therefore, the evidence available does not justify making any allowance or adjustment to the 5-year supply on account of the effects on the planning process.

I fully acknowledge that the pandemic’s effects go beyond just planning. During the lockdown period, construction on most sites came to a halt, and even for those that were able to keep going, supplies of materials became more scarce, and productivity was reduced by social distancing. Even now that the lockdown has been relaxed, some of these effects may linger, and the capacity of the building industry may continue to be affected into the future. Similarly, the house sales market was brought to a standstill for several weeks. Even now that the restrictions have been removed, the backlog of stalled transactions could slow down the process of buying and selling for some time. And in the wider economy, there are well-publicised fears that job losses could result in falling property values and a depressed market. Put simply, fewer buyers might mean fewer houses built, and more housing needs unmet.

But the 5-year supply is concerned only with the number of deliverable sites, and that figure is entirely separate from the number of houses actually built and occupied. Clearly it is right that the underlying purpose of the exercise is to boost housing supply. But the provisions in the NPPF that trigger the tilted balance, and with it the presumption in favour of sustainable development, relate only to the number of sites and their deliverability. Forecasts of the pandemic’s effects on actual housing delivery are not directly relevant to this exercise.

….. for the reasons explained above, I do not consider in this case that any adjustment should be made to the 5-year supply figures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic situation.”

No change there, then.

Section 7.131 of DCP Online concerns the assessment of proposals against housing land supply.