Question 12 of the consultation on the revised NPPF asks “Do you agree with the application of the presumption in favour of sustainable development where delivery is below 75% of the housing requirement from 2020?”

Question 14 asks if you have any other comments on Chapter 5 (the housing chapter).

One can, of course, respond to all of the proposals about the Housing Delivery Test, including what is set out in Annex 1 (para 211) and the Housing Delivery Test Draft Measurement Rule Book (or the HDTDMRB – if you like acronyms).

  1. The Housing Delivery Test (HDT) has the potential to be one of the most radical aspects of the revised NPPF. An LPA which fails the HDT will have its applications determined on the basis of the tilted balance (unless in a protected area or asset). That outcome arises from the convoluted route from paragraph 75 to paragraph 11, taking in para 211 in Annex A on the way.
  2.  As everyone knows, the tilted balance means planning permission should be granted for a housing proposal unless any adverse impacts would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits – revised NPPF para 11(d)(ii). That will be a very useful route into the tilted balance in neighbourhood development plan (NDP) areas when that route will has been cut off by the need for the LPA to demonstrate only a 3 year supply of housing land, rather than a 5 year supply. NDPs with settlement boundary policies seeking to restrict development to within the boundary, may find that protection from speculative development no longer applies when the LPA area as a whole has failed the HDT.
  3.  But the reason one fails to get too excited about the HDT is the level at which it has been set in the revised NPPF. The HDT is only failed when the housing delivery in the LPA area over the last three year falls below 75% of the three year requirement.
  4.  That is marginally better than the proposal in the Government’s Housing White Paper (Feb 2017) “Fixing Our Broken Housing Market” where the level was set at 65% (para 2.49). But it is still pretty insipid.
  5.  But as many have observed, what is worse is that even the 75% will not apply until the end of 2020. For November 2019 the HDT is only failed if delivery is less than 45% of the housing which should have been delivered. And worse still in November this year it is only 25% of the housing requirement.
  6.  In truth, the HDT which should become the new engine of delivery, looks rather pathetic. Especially in the context of the Government having acknowledged that not only is our housing market broken, but that we have a full-blown housing crisis in this country. That was acknowledged as long ago as October 2013, when Nick Boles, the then Planning Minister adopted that term “crisis” in a House of Commons Debate. That acknowledgement came too late for the NPPF version 1 which was published in March 2012. But it is the acknowledged position in the context of the revised NPPF consultation. And if one accepts it is “a crisis” as opposed to “a problem” or “an issue”, then does that crisis not require urgent and immediate action.
  7.  The 25% figure for this year is so low it seems almost laughable to imagine that is a suitable response to the problem of housing delivery in this country. No doubt lobbying will have taken place requesting a low level is necessary to ease LPAs into the new test. But the need for greater housing delivery has been with us for years. And the problem is that it looks rather like the Government have until now taken the view that delivery of only 25% of an LPAs housing requirement has been perfectly acceptable.
  8.  Moreover, setting the test this year at 25% of the three-year requirement is doing LPA with delivery problems no favours. If any LPA is experiencing problems of delivery in their area then they need the HDT and the tilted balance to get them out of it. Delivery below even 50% is really appalling and suggests the LPA has not adopted a realistic development plan (or any plan at all) and their choice of sites and the delivery assumptions made (and the scrutiny of them) has been very poor.
  9.  Like a spoilt child, one is doing no favours to an LPA if its running at below 50% already. The HDT will result in the tilted balance being applied at the end of this year, meaning new speculative sites (which are often of 25-250 houses in size and therefore have the potential to delivery quickly) will be released. That will start to improve the situation for the LPA going forward. 
  10.  By 2020, LPAs should be achieving 85% of the requirement because that is surely the level below which delivery problems are becoming serious. That is not draconian because: at least that level of delivery should be taking place; the HDT deliberately doesn’t look at just 1 year, it averages the requirement out over three; and in any event, many plans now set the LPA wide housing requirement as a minimum, so why should anything less than 85% of a minimum figure be tolerated. 
  11. Therefore, a response to Q12 of the NPPF consultation document might be to suggest that paragraph 75 should be changed to require 85% from 2020 and that also paragraph 211 should be amended to read:

For the purpose of paragraph 75 in the Framework, substantial un-delivery means where the Housing Delivery Test results published in:

 (i)               November 2018 indicate that delivery was below 50% of housing required over the previous three years;

(ii)               November 2019 indicate that delivery was below 75% of housing required over the previous three years;

(iii)              November 2018 indicate that delivery was below 85% of housing required over the previous three years.