Flintshire’s own figures based on actual build rates suggest there is not a housing shortage in ‘real’ terms. However, according to the Welsh Government method of calculation, Flintshire cannot demonstrate a 5-year housing land supply and therefore there should be a presumption in favour of sustainable development. But is the housing need real?
There is a waiting list on the affordable housing register which indicates that there is a local need for affordable housing. However, had the last two developments in Penyffordd included a 30% affordable housing provision (rather than 10%) there would have been an additional 62 affordable homes in Penyffordd today (all since 2011). There has also been a predominant mix of larger detached houses in the last few developments in Penyffordd with fewer 2 and 3 bedroom including semi-detached properties.
If we are genuinely building houses to satisfy housing need, then a minimum of 30% affordable provision should be non-negotiable and developments need to include a good balance of different property types to meet the needs of the wider area, but importantly, to provide continued balance to the community itself.
Developer Guidance Note
Flintshire LPA have produced a Developers Guidance Note, which was subject to public consultation and adopted by Flintshire County Council. The guidance note requires full detailed planning application from developers, rather than outline applications.
The reason there is a need for a developer’s guidance note is due to the lack of a current Local Development Plan (LDP) in Flintshire. That means there are no allocated sites (aside from those not developed under the Unitary Development Plan (UDP) and which are potentially less attractive to developers).
The Hawarden Road developer fully complied with the Guidance Note and sought to satisfy all that was asked of them from the local authority. So, the developer selects the site, demonstrates that what they are planning is compliant with some of the planning policies and is sustainable - and that satisfies the LPA.
We believe that communities deserve a voice in this plan-less void and there is a solution in Community Place Plans. Place Plans are part of the planning policy framework and sit beneath Local Development Plans. The Welsh Government intention is that individual communities can include ‘exceptions’ to the LDP which apply specifically to their neighbourhood. Adopted and consulted Place Plans can carry the significant weight of Supplementary Planning Guidance under an LDP, but ahead of the adoption of an LDP, they should carry the same weight as the Developers Guidance Note, providing they are broadly compliant with the LDP strategy. We need an agreed process and timeline for that to happen.
Settlement Growth Targets
There is a need for housing over the coming decade. There is a need for every ‘sustainable’ community to accept that some growth is inevitable.
The Flintshire Unitary Development Plan (2000-2015) included recommended percentage growth limits for each of three settlement categories. In Penyffordd, a Category B settlement, the limit was proposed between 8 and 15%. In reality the UDP sites allocated in Penyffordd allowed for planned growth of over 25%.
Flintshire have decided in the LDP process, not to apply settlement growth figures at all. There are now five bands of ‘sustainability’ in the next local plan, with 37 settlements considered able to sustain development in the LDP. There is no indication if every settlement will be expected to have land available for development or whether there will be reasonable limits per settlement.
Penyffordd had already been allocated significant growth under the UDP and has since received six different speculative planning applications in 2 years. So far two of those have been granted planning permission on appeal.
Without any growth guidance under the LDP, there is unlimited potential for additional developments to be added to each settlement. We did some quick maths and what we found was alarming for Penyffordd:
7,645 – target number of new homes in Flintshire 2015 – 2030
1,300 – of those on strategic sites
6,345 – Houses to be provided by the 37 sustainable settlements
171 houses per settlement if distributed equally
Penyffordd have already had that many since 2015
There are applications outstanding for a further 259 houses.
There has to be some limit if the impact on community life and ‘cohesive communities’ is to be taken into account.
There is an often used legal term ‘so what?’.
‘So what?’ if another 72 houses get built in Penyffordd? It’s a good question.
From the point of view of those involved:
THE LANDOWNER (WINNER)
Realises significant value from their asset and removes the need to maintain the land.
THE DEVELOPER / BUILDER (WINNERS)
Provides short term local employment (if it is a local builder) and profit
THE FUTURE HOMEOWNERS (SOME WINNERS SOME LOSERS)
The mixture of properties allow movement within the settlement and local area which could enable first-time buyers to get into a house in the area or for owners of larger homes to downsize. In this particular development, the future homeowners will face significant noise from the bypass and cement works.
THE COUNCIL (WINNERS)
Are able to tick a further 32 houses off their housing target, they will gain directly from council tax payments, though countered by the additional responsibilities in providing for the new residents, street maintenance etc. The houses are not being built in a location which has been selected through the plan process, and is not therefore necessarily compliant with the strategic plan.
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT (WINNERS)
Allowing the selection of sites according to the opportunist behaviour of landowners and developers means that housebuilding will not necessarily accord with the government strategies, particularly around Wellbeing, cohesive and resilient communities or active travel.
THE COMMUNITY (LOSERS)
There is the benefit of new housing, including affordable, to allow for the potential in-migration of existing residents which could keep families close to each other within the community – particularly important for carers. The downside is that there is additional pressure on services including water, waste, internet, schools and medical.
The impact on social-cohesion is the most significant.
There are no school places at the schools where children would normally attend. But where children go to school is viewed as a matter for the education authority, not planning. What this means in Penyffordd is that children who shared the same primary school class will be separated as they go to secondary school. But this is not limited to new children from the newest developments, it will be based on distance primarily and that means the perception is that new residents are causing existing residents to lose their school places. This resentment is social poison.
The increasing difficulties getting doctor’s appointment are also made worse (for everyone) each time there is a new development without an increase in the number of doctors. Again, this is not a planning matter, that is for the local health authority (though how the health authority is supposed to plan when random developments are approved is a mystery).
On Hawarden Road the developers, allowed by the planners, have proposed a dedicated children’s play area. This means that the parents and children in the new development have no reason to walk down the village to the other larger play areas (there are three within a few minutes walk) – that is bad for active travel and bad for promoting the possibility of chance interactions with other members of the community. It will help to leave new residents socially isolated. The community will also lose the presence of sheep that graze of the land as well as the open landscape at the northern entrance to the village.
Then there is the matter of social-resilience. (something that Welsh Government aspire to and referenced in their ground-breaking Wellbeing of Future Generations Act). With a huge proportion of a community behaving with resilience; coming together, acting together, evidencing harm from recent overdevelopment and then being totally disregarded; that hugely undermines resilience. There is a sense of inevitable defeat and hopelessness – because of a loss of faith in the system.
Most people are reasonable and expect some growth. Not everyone will be happy with where that growth comes, but people understand the need to provide for a growing population. But when that growth is uncontrolled, unmanaged and apparently without limit, that too is like poison to the spirit that binds a community.
In the absence of a Local Plan, it should be a requirement for planning authorities to work WITH communities. The adversarial nature of the planning process is leading to unwanted and poorly integrated developments which cause harm whilst adding to the housing spreadsheet. Community Plans (Place Plans) and Community Councils can provide a realistic local voice – not necessarily in residence to every development – but in consultation with developers and local authority.
It is only possible for developers to apply for planning permission on agricultural land because the local authority have failed to adopt a Local Development Plan. The local authority should not therefore have all the power without consulting meaningfully with communities.
What about Schools?
The most emotive part of the last two public inquiries in Penyffordd has been around Schools. In the Hawarden Road report from the LPA, it was made clear that there are insufficient school places at either the local primary school or the local secondary school. In spite of this the LPA recommended approval and a cash contribution from the developer, calculated according to a formula – not to provide school places but to improve the accommodation of the art department. The developer argued that a new school was proposed in the village that would provide capacity and that there are spaces in secondary schools elsewhere so there is no need for them to pay anything. It was also argued at the Redrow inquiry that it is not the place of developers to prop up schools budgets for improvements to facilities.
In the Hawarden Road inquiry discussions around S106 contributions, the LPA conceded that school places would come available once the new primary school was built in the village in 2019. Those residents fighting the school planning application might be horrified to discover that the Council conceded the point of primary school capacity on the assumption that the application would be approved – before it had been before the planning committee. Had the Council stood their ground on the known actual capacities then the developer would have had to make a contribution - that concession cost the council £100,000 of school funding.
The impact of schools on a community is significant and it is important that serious consideration is given to lack of capacity and what that means for the children, families and consequently the community. If policy directs the LPA to take cash contributions in lieu of school places and developers can escape those contributions, then the system is not working and needs to be looked at. There is real harm as a consequence of this and the solution is not just within the remit of the LPA but of the Local Authority as a whole.
The determination of the local planning authority to get this development approved is worrying. One viewpoint would be that they are looking at the potential to defend an appeal and didn’t believe they could afford sufficient weight to their own UDP policies and consequently they would inevitably lose at appeal with the risk of incurring all costs; another viewpoint is that they didn’t see the harm, took a view that it should be allowed and felt that they know best.
In Penyffordd where this is the second successful appeal, with another one awaiting a decision and three additional developments in the planning system, the lack of weight afforded to planning policy and no end in sight to the growth of the settlement, suggests that we have planning anarchy. The community voice carries no weight.
The one benefit intended by Welsh Government is that new developments bring funds to communities to support the improvements of facilities – the Community Infrastructure Levy. As a consequence of this development, there will be no money for the community, no money for schools or anything else.
The planning system in Wales isn’t working. The Hawarden road application is a perfect example.
The consultant employed by the landowners admitted to fearing missing out and couldn’t wait for the LDP process with other applications going through, so they submitted the application speculatively. They also admitted that, having seen the extent of the opposition, they believed the planning committee would refuse and so they didn’t wait for the committee, they appealed early for ‘non-determination’.
Because the LDP process is so late, it is not working and the planning committee is irrelevant – in the eyes of the developer (and the community).
The irrelevance of the planning committee was further reinforced when they did decide to refuse the application only to be persuaded to reverse their decision behind closed doors three months later.
In the eyes of the residents, the same people who have failed to get the LDP in place are recommending that the houses should be built, despite their own policies being broken and irrespective of the objections of hundreds of residents and elected councillors.
One point to note was the location of the Public Inquiry. The Inspectorate advised that the appeal was to be determined by Public Inquiry. That Inquiry should have been heard in the community – as the Redrow one had the month before. There is no excuse for it being held in a building next door to County Hall. The public attendance was poor because of the inaccessibility of the venue. The facilities were worse and it further served to demonstrate the disconnect between the planning system and the community.
Something needs to be done to restore the integrity of the whole planning system in the eyes of both developers and residents.