Save West of Ifield Newsletter – June 2024
In other news …
We know that Homes England hope to submit a planning
application for WOI in 2024 – it could arrive any time but we
hope it’ll come after the Planning Inspector’s examination of
Horsham’s Local Plan in the autumn.
The application will include an Environmental Statement (ES)
which should address the environmental impacts of the
development. As part of preparing the ES Homes England
must ask Horsham Council to check the scope of their
environmental impact assessment (EIA). Although the requests
are not formal public consultations, SWOI have responded to
the 2023 and 2024 requests, and our responses are here:

https://www.savewestofifield.co.uk/documents. about this…but just in case:

All the EIA documents are on the Horsham Council planning
portal, reference EIA/24/0003. And it’s from these that we now
know Homes England’s plans for water neutrality include
drilling boreholes to extract water from an aquifer 200m
below ground. There is no suggestion in the EIA that either
WSCC or Southern Water have been consulted about this,
which is surprising since sinking boreholes into finite non-
replenishable stores of fossil water can’t be a sustainable
strategy for water supply in the south-east?! Who else is
abstracting water from this aquifer and at what rate? Where
will the abstracted water be treated and will this place yet more
pressure on the Crawley waste-water treatment works?
EIAs have been in the national news too. You may have seen
the Supreme Court judgement on the Horse Hill oil well in
Surrey – that the project’s EIA should have taken into account
the downstream emissions from burning the oil, and not be
restricted to the impacts of the construction. We’re also very
interested that the EIA was judged to be incomplete and did
not provide full information, because this is one of our big
complaints against the Homes England EIA, and the Horsham
Council Local Plan Regulation 19 consultation exercise.
We’ve been very concerned for a while that insufficient
information will be available for adequate decision-making
about the WOI planning application, and about the
environmental impacts and consequently the mitigations
required. There seems to be a lack of will to gather a robust
information base – whether via desk-based assessment,
surveys ‘in the field’ or most importantly via consultation with
local experts and organisations.
There are too many examples of Homes England ignoring
Horsham Council’s requests for data and assessment, or saying
it will be provided after the application has been approved.
This all flies in the face of the Horse Hill judgement which
emphasised the importance of public participation in the EIA
process, both to afford “early and effective opportunities to
express comments and opinions” [paragraph 20] in the
interest of democratic legitimacy [paragraph 21], and also to
provide the public with information [paragraph 20]; “You can
only care about what you know about” [paragraph 21].

How the Labour government intends to implement its manifesto planning promises

Observers expect the government to hit the ground running in implementing the planning promises in their manifesto, including by undoing recent national policy changes and introducing new strategic planning tools. Insiders say proposals for new towns and compulsory purchase revisions are likely to be taken forward in a new “towns bill”.

by David Blackman 5 July 2024

As widely expected, Britain is today waking up to a Labour government for the first time in nearly a decade and a half. Central to the party’s election-winning platform were its proposals to overhaul the planning system.

Luke Francis, a special adviser to Labour’s Lisa Nandy when she was shadow levelling up and housing secretary, said the party has “gone out on the front foot” about the need for a “fundamental reset in how we approach planning”.

Labour’s thinking on planning reform was outlined in its manifesto, published three weeks ahead of polling day (4 July 2024). It contained no major surprises, said Catriona Riddell, strategic planning specialist at local authority body the Planning Officers Society (POS). “They trailed much of it and there wasn’t much detail,” she added.

Chris Rumfitt, founder and chief executive of public affairs firm Field Consulting, said Labour’s manifesto was broadly characterised by an absence of the kind of rabbits from the hat that parties often spring during general election campaigns in a bid to draw attention. “This is reflective of the safety-first policy of the manifesto, full stop,” he said.

Rumfitt continued: “There was, very deliberately, a lack of detail and – while it might be frustrating to people, looking at the political context and a 20-point opinion poll lead – it is hard to imagine anyone would do anything different from what they’re doing right now.”

However, the manifesto proposals offered a “strong indication” of Labour’s “direction of travel” on housing and planning policy, while the very process of putting proposals in a manifesto is “significant”, said Rumfitt. “They’re the priorities and what we can expect to see from Labour in the early weeks and months. It means the civil servants will be working on preparing the changes so that they can move very quickly on day one,” he added.

“It also means there shouldn’t be any parliamentary obstacles to implementing the specific commitments in the manifesto,” said Rumfitt, referring to the parliamentary convention that the House of Lords cannot block a government’s stated manifesto commitment.

The 136-page manifesto document said the Labour government will “immediately update” theNPPF to “undo damaging Conservative changes”, including restoring mandatory housing targets. In a new pledge, it added that Labour will “reform and strengthen the presumption in favour of sustainable development”, while taking “tough action” to ensure that planning authorities have up-to-date local plans.

Following Labour’s manifesto launch, shadow chancellor of the exchequer Rachel Reeves revealed that a new version of the NPPF will be produced within the first 100 days of Labour entering government. At the weekend, press reports suggested the draft NPPF changes will be published before the end of July.

Undoing the NPPF changes to restore housing targets indicates that the party will reverse last December’s move by outgoing Conservative levelling up secretary Michael Gove to downgrade the standard method for calculating housing need to an “advisory starting point”.

“Implicit in what they’re saying is that there’ll be changes in policy that they can do fairly rapidly,” said Matthew Spry, head of the London office of planning consultancy Lichfields. “The most immediate change we’re going to see is around that much strengthened and bolder NPPF,” he continued.

Lord Banner, the Keating Chambers KC recently appointed to the House of Lords as a Conservative peer, suggested at Planning’sPlanning Summit earlier this month (13-14 June 2024) that Labour’s pledge to undo the changes will not even require a fresh round of consultation because the change being reversed was so recent.

This would be “a defensible position”, according to Duncan Field, a partner at specialist planning solicitors Town Legal. “It suggests they [the government] would mean business,” he added, pointing out that the incoming government will have greater freedom to act while they are in the immediate post-election honeymoon period.

Given the likely size of Labour’s final majority, the new government will be able to ignore political flak about not consulting, said Field Consulting’s Rumfitt. “It aligns with the political reality that in our system, a government with a huge majority can get away with things that a government with a small majority can’t,” he explained. “If they’ve got a big majority and it’s something they said they would do in the election campaign – they clearly said they’ll reinstate the target – then they’ll just be able to do it.”

Lichfields’ Spry said undoing the December 2023 changes will not be “unhelpful” in fostering a more development-friendly framework for decision-making, particularly for rulings coming on called-in applications or recovered appeals. However, they will not go far enough, he contended:

“Even with the NPPF as it was before December 2023, there were concerns that it wasn’t effective in driving the level of development that was required,” said Spry. “It was focused on making a plan-led system work, but there were shortcomings if that system didn’t actually have plans. Any reversion would only be a holding position for a short period.”

Spry, who wrote a chapter setting out six planning reform priorities for a 2023 report for left-leaning think-tank the Fabian Society that has informed Labour’s thinking, said he anticipates a draft NPPF for consultation in the summer, with the aim of getting the revised blueprint in place before the end of the year. This timetable is “fast, but doable”, said Rumfitt.

Paul Brocklehurst, chair of membership body the Land Promoters and Developers Federation, said Labour’s pledge to strengthen the presumption in favour of sustainable development was in line with the planning reform package that it outlined at last October’s annual party conference.

The POS’s Riddell said it is a “good ambition”, but the early review of the NPPF in the parliamentary term, heralded in the manifesto and by Reeves, is unlikely to be “comprehensive”. She added: “There’s a lot of things you need to think about before they do that.”

Spry said he believes that Labour’s overall pledges around the NPPF, including the strengthened presumption in favour of sustainable development, will pump a “big shot of adrenaline” into the existing planning system in the short term.

Press reports at the weekend also suggested that the new housing secretary aims to have written to local authorities within three weeks to tell them to start a process of “regularly reviewing” their green belt boundaries to ensure they are hitting housing targets.

Besides NPPF changes, the other new pledge in the manifesto is to introduce “effective new mechanisms for cross-boundary strategic planning”. Combined and mayoral authorities will be required to “strategically plan” for housing growth in their areas. Combined authorities will be given “new planning powers”, which will be consolidated to allow for “improved” decision-making.

Shadow housing minister Matthew Pennycook has previously argued in the House of Commons that enabling councils to draw up joint, cross-border plans could help housing needs to be met in a “more co-ordinated manner”. But Riddell said it is “good” to get these commitments around strategic planning set out in the manifesto in “black and white”. Labour is understood to have been discussing this with its team of metro mayors, which has swelled since May’s local elections.

Spry noted that Labour’s pledge to introduce plural mechanisms for cross-boundary strategic planning is an indication that the party is thinking about how such arrangements will work in the many areas of England not covered by combined authorities. “There are lots of parts of the country that don’t have mayoral or combined authorities,” he added.

Spry also highlighted Labour’s manifesto commitment to remove planning barriers holding back the development of data centres and update national planning policy to make it easier to build digital infrastructure, gigafactories and laboratories. “The approach to planning for employment land hasn’t really evolved for probably 20 years, and meanwhile the economy and property market have changed a lot,” Spry explained.

The manifesto also confirmed previously announced Labour proposals to push ahead with the next generation of new towns and strengthen compulsory purchase powers. The latter is likely to be taken forward in a new piece of legislation, which has been given the working title of a “towns bill”, Planning has been told. While focused on new towns, it will contain a broader series of planning measures that can be brought in, according to Planning’s source.

This will be one of the two “immediate priorities” for what may no longer be called the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, alongside reviving currently stalled legislation on private rent reform, the Planning source noted.

Welcome news for planners is that Labour has not included proposals for a community right of appeal in its manifesto. Various politicians from across the political spectrum have flirted with this idea during the past decade. But Riddell suggested that the community right of appeal could be “problematic”, particularly for Labour’s goals to accelerate the rollout of energy infrastructure.

Riddell said: “If you’re laying down the foundations for a serious and robust approach to planning and genuinely speeded-up decisions to try and get, for example, the energy network in place, the community right of appeal would significantly get in the way of that, whether it’s right or wrong.”

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