Half measures could dilute pipeline of smaller sites

25 July 2018

Smaller residential sites have been integral to some of the most valued streetscapes across the UK, and remain a valuable contributor to much-needed housing.

With the well-documented housing supply shortfall within the UK, local authorities are coming under increasing pressure to approve residential development as they seek to find a suitable, sustainable solution to housing demand, particularly with many unable to demonstrate a five-year land supply. 

The current backdrop is well publicised and myriad articles are crafted week after week highlighting alarming figures. Whether this is the 400,000 houses that are still waiting to be built following approval or the 40 months average time it takes from planning permission to construction being completed,  local authorities are under increasing pressure to deliver housing, and sharpish.

In March 2018, the first draft of the ‘new’ NPPF recognised the integral contribution that small-sites make to meeting housing demand. The draft publication outlined that “small sites can make an important contribution to meeting the housing requirement of an area, and are often built out relatively quickly”, consequently calling for councils to "ensure that at least 20 per cent of the sites identified for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less".

However, the revised framework published on 24 July instead now requires local authorities to “ensure that at least 10 per cent of their housing requirement (as oppose to 20 per cent of sites allocated) should be accommodated on sites of one hectare or less (rather than 0.5 hectares) that have been identified as suitable for housing", equating to a 10 per cent fall. To contextualise, this isn’t aligned with the draft London Plan which identifies a small site as 0.25 hectares or less.

It would be remiss to neglect the benefits of smaller-sites and the valuable contribution they can make towards housing numbers, as well as maintaining and enhancing places which many people call home. 

This revised small-sites requirement is in response to concerns expressed by councils and the private sector that the 20 per cent requirement was too high and inflexible to use in practice, and that 0.5 hectares was too small to encourage a good mix of sites for small and medium builders. Let’s not forget it was only in March where we witnessed an extension to permitted development rights for farmers, with an amended allowance for up to five small homes.

In Planning Potential’s view, the watering-down of this policy is another example of conflicting policies and another bitter pill to swallow for the smaller developers and housebuilders due to the perceived lack of attractiveness and wider benefits such sites are capable of. Smaller sites can deliver housing expediently, and we have concerns that this latest policy iteration reneges on the initial March publication which was commended for helping to remove the barriers in place for smaller developers. Smaller-scale, well-designed new housing developments give smaller developers expression, and meet housing demand in a sensitive way, with the backing of the overarching national framework.

We certainly haven’t heard the half of this yet and Planning Potential will continue to keep you apprised of this important strand of the NPPF, which could have repercussions for many. Upon release of the revised NPPF, the government repeated its goal of building 300,000 new homes a year “by the mid-2020s”. Our glass is somewhat half empty on this one.