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A local MP says it will be virtually impossible for local planners to refuse permission for a developer to build houses anywhere in Wychavon unless the government changes national planning rules urgently. Already Worcestershire communities from Wychbold to Bretforton and Honeybourne are suffering as a result.

“Bizarrely, this is because the government is forcing councils to apply polices it is trying to abolish, and these same councils are being held to account for things they have no power to achieve.

“And to add insult to injury, the houses built as a result of all this would be unsustainable, breaking one of the fundamental planning principles of the government. This situation is straight out of Alice in Wonderland and getting curiouser and curiouser the more I look at it,” says Mid Worcestershire MP Peter Luff.

“The fundamental problem seems to be that the government thinks there is a shortage of supply of land when the real issue is a shortage of demand for houses. The government is absolutely right to seek new ways of encouraging economic growth, but if building houses were the answer to a maiden’s prayer when it comes to growth, then Spain and Eire would be booming, not bust.”

The problem stems from the inability of Wychavon District Council to prove it has met its obligation under planning rules to provide a large enough supply of land to build enough houses to meet local demand over a five year period.

Peter says this is because of the government’s own delay in abolishing the hated West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy. This in turn has forced the councils of South Worcestershire to delay their own development plan, which is still being consulted on locally.

He has written to the planning minister seeking an urgent discussion about how the area can “prove it has a five-year land supply and stop the Planning Inspectorate from granting every appeal, virtually irrespective of its logic or location.”

In the letter he says,

“I am extremely alarmed by the position Wychavon District Council find themselves in regarding the failure effectively to abolish the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy nearly two and half years after the election, the implementation of the National Planning Policy Framework and the affect this is having on planning applications in my constituency of Mid Worcestershire.”

He associates himself strongly with a letter from Councillor Judy Pearce, Executive Board member for Planning at Wychavon District Council, which sets out clearly the problem when she explains all the steps Wychavon has taken to comply with national policies and to meet local housing need saying,

“Despite this the Council still does not have a 5 year supply of land because of the lack of completions in the housing market. The National Planning Policy Framework and recent decisions by both the Planning Inspectorate (in relation to development within the District) and the Department for Communities (in relation to development nationally) in accordance with the Framework have created an untenable situation for this Council since it holds us to account for something we cannot directly control. Further there is a real danger that significant unplanned growth will harm the overall sustainability of the District."

Cllr Pearce’s letter explains some of the detailed issues and goes on to say,

“[This] means that this council would need to provide permissions for and see completed over a 1000 dwellings a year to meet its five year requirement. This level of housing building has never been seen before in this District. (The highest build rate was 771 dwellings in 1997/8, with an average completion rate of 436 dwellings over the past 16 years.)”

In his own letter of support Peter Luff has told the minister,

“In essence Wychavon has done everything this government has asked of it – and is, as you will know, one of the best performing district councils in the country, often held up by your department as a role model.

“Yet now we find we are being asked to ensure the completion of a literally incredible number of houses every year (much more than at the height of the housing boom) to avoid a series of planning appeals succeeding and permitting still more housing in unacceptable and unsustainable locations.

“To add insult to injury, we will also lose Community Infrastructure Levy for these houses as the approval comes on appeal and outside the formal development plan process.”

“A situation in which the West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy still dictates policy and in which my council is judged by its ability not to grant permissions but to ensure completions is bizarre as I’m sure you will agree.”

Wychavon is recommending six specific policy steps the government could take to address the problem including a rapid abolition of the regional strategy, a review of the weight given to emerging local plans and opinions at planning inquiries and a review of how the five year land supply is calculated “recognising that completions are not within the Council’s gift”.

Commenting, Peter said,

“The government has in its hands the power to act and to act quickly. In Wychavon we already have undeveloped land with planning permission for 2,000 homes. We don’t need more permissions – we need more buyers.”


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