On Tuesday the 23rd of January, Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke, secured a debate in the House of Commons regarding the Government's updated planning policy. Maria specifically focused on the broadened scope of ‘exceptional circumstances’ which provided local authorities like Basingstoke and Deane with the opportunity to argue for reduced housebuilding numbers.
‘’In December, the Government announced significant changes to their house building planning policy, giving new powers and freedoms to local planning authorities, such as Basingstoke and Deane, through changes to the national planning policy framework to vary their planned house building numbers away from the standard method, among other things. The Secretary of State rightfully attached to these new powers and freedoms a single, clear and unambiguous condition:
‘With these changes secure, there is now an added responsibility on local government to deliver.’
For too many years, some planning authorities have relied on Government for their house building figures, choosing the path of least resistance and doing what the standard formula told them, in the absence of having asked council officials to collect evidence, or perhaps for fear of being challenged if they actually challenged the standard method and had to allocate more people to their planning departments. However, those days are over.
‘’As a result of the changes that the Minister introduced, local authorities are now able to consider varying more widely from that standard assessment, having looked at “exceptional circumstances”, to ensure that house building in our community better reflects the nuance of our individual situation.
‘’The NPPF now shows that exceptional circumstances are not to be drawn narrowly, which was too often asserted in the past by local authorities who readily chose to interpret them from case law alone. It is now clear that local authorities, including mine in Basingstoke, are able to set out their case for exceptional circumstances for a large number of reasons.
‘’In Basingstoke, that could be the age demographics of our town. We are the most rapidly ageing population in Hampshire, with the number of over-65s growing by 77% in the last decade. The primary and most compelling factor that makes Basingstoke and Deane an outlier is our extraordinary levels of historic house building. At the start of the Second World War, our population was just 13,000. By 1961, it had grown to 25,000. Today, our population is 186,000, so we have grown from 13,000 to 186,000 in less than a lifetime.
‘’I know from conversations that I have had on the doorsteps in Basingstoke for many years that excessive house building is the No. 1 issue for many residents. It is so disappointing that the borough council has not yet exercised its new powers, especially given all the hard work that the Minister has put into changing the NPPF to better accommodate places with exceptional circumstances, such as Basingstoke.
‘’I understand the concerns of my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke that Basingstoke and Deane district council has seen a high level of housing delivery, including in recent years, in excess of that set out in the adopted local plan in 2016. Indeed, the housing delivery test results for 2022, published in December, show that the district has delivered more homes than is required through the test.
‘’We have been consistently clear that the standard method is a starting point for local authorities in assessing what to plan for and that it does not set a mandatory target. The framework now sets that out in national policy. Local authorities should be in no doubt that the outcome of the standard method is an advisory starting point for establishing housing requirements through plan-making. Again, for the avoidance of doubt, that means that local authorities can put forward their own approach to assessing needs where certain exceptional circumstances exist.
‘’I am absolutely certain that there will be more cases for exceptional circumstances put forward in the future, and I encourage councils to consider them if they believe that they apply. Logically, I would then expect more cases for exceptional circumstances to be accepted by the Planning Inspectorate, although that will also be for the inspectorate to determine on a case-by-case basis.’’
‘’We absolutely expect local authorities to take into account the NPPF. It has been clear that the NPPF is extant from the moment that it was put in place. There are transitional arrangements for some elements of it at the end, but it is for local authorities to take that into account. I would be surprised if local authorities were not doing that, because the whole purpose of how they approach plans is to recognise transitional arrangements and the fact that different local authorities will be in different places and will have to work out precisely how to consider them. It is vital that local authorities take note of the national planning policy framework and the update that has been made.’’
For a full transcript of the debate please following this link: Revised National Planning Framework - Hansard - UK Parliament