Letter ( and the reply!) to T&W re. failure to use HCA land in Telford

T&W have finally confirmed in writing what we have all known for some time. i.e.that they are targeting Newport and the surrounding rural hinterland for housing.

On the agenda for the T&W Full Council meeting held last week on 27th February 2014, at Item 9, Appendix E, Electoral Review of T&W Borough Council, page 2, first para., confirms the areas of ‘…substantial housing development expected to occur in Lawley,Hadley, Lightmoor and Newport..’.

The attached letter has been sent on behalf of SNC to Cllr. Kuldip Sahota, Leader of T&W Council.

Letter to Leader of the Council

 

We note, as reported in the Shropshire Star (‘Councils bullied by national plan’s rules’, 17th February), the invidious position Shropshire Council local planning committees find themselves in having to approve unwanted housing developments on greenfield land purely on the basis that the County does not have a 5 year supply of deliverable housing land to meet forecast demand. As a result, County Councillors are now urgently lobbying their MPs with a view to asking Government to review their national planning and housing policies in light of the Localism Act which purported to give increased powers to local communities to control the scale and location of future development in their areas.

 

However, in Telford & Wrekin, where your Council has recently concluded that it too cannot demonstrate a 5 year housing land supply and similarly can therefore no longer say no to prospective housing developments on greenfield land, such as the 350 houses recently approved for Station Rd Newport, there would appear to be no such political outcry and lobbying for a Government rethink.

 

Could this perhaps be because it suits your Council to blame Government policy for making its planning function redundant whilst allowing it to reap the financial benefits on offer through the Government’s New Homes Bonus (worth an estimated £2.5m in the case of Station Rd) and future Council Tax?

 

Previously Telford & Wrekin Council, with an abundance of available serviced land zoned for housing development in Telford currently owned by the H&CA, would have challenged Government planning policy for having a detrimental impact on both its democratic planning function and precious green spaces, but when it is faced with making further massive budget cuts in the face of an ongoing Government reduction in public spending it has clearly thrown in the towel and opted instead for short term expediency but longer term social and environmental damage. Why is the Council not pressing the H&CA to extend its ‘Stewardship Agreement’ with the Council to allow it to market, promote and sell housing sites (with a financial incentive) and not solely its commercial sites?

 

Ironically, your Council has just announced that it is delaying the production of its new local plan (Shaping Places) until 2016 to allow time to consult with local communities as to where new housing developments should be built! We would suggest this will be a redundant exercise until the Council convinces Government that it can easily meet a realistic level of housing demand and so be able to say no to speculative housing developers looking for easily developable greenfield sites. In the interim, and because of this local policy vacuum, prospective housing developers are being given a green light to increase their already substantial portfolios of land with extant planning permission (such as the proposed greenfield development at Haygate Rd, Wellington).

 

Save Newport Campaign

 

And we have received a reply from the Leader of the Council….

 

Dear Sirs

 

Thank you for your email dated 3 March 2014, I note your comments regarding new housing development. However, I do not agree with you that the Council is “blaming the Government”. When addressing plan making matters or determining planning applications Telford & Wrekin Council seeks to ensure and make clear that it is following Government Planning Policy as do all Councils when determining Planning Applications. You will also be aware that the Secretary of State has decided not to call-in any planning permissions for new housing in the Borough. I believe that this confirms that the Local Planning Authority is carrying out its responsibilities for planning as Government requires and endorses the Council’s decisions. The Government clearly believes that their reforms to the planning system introduced through the National Planning Policy Framework and National Planning Practice Guidance are making a difference. This enabled the Chancellor of the Exchequer to report to the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee on the housing crisis that “I think that the Planning Reforms are clearly working”.

 

The Council is satisfied with the way in which its partnership with the Homes and Communities Agency is working to deliver sustainable new homes in Telford. The Council has been actively pursuing a greater say over HCA housing land, however, to date we have been advised that the Treasury will not release its control over HCA housing land to the local authority but we continue to lobby Government. The rate of house completions in Telford is increasing and it is anticipated that over 900 new homes will be completed this year. The recent report by the Centre for Cities (Cities Outlook 2014) indicated that Telford is at the forefront of providing new housing and private sector jobs placing Telford at third highest for housing stock growth and third highest for creation of private sector jobs. On his recent visit to the Borough, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government welcomed and praised the approach to development and planning adopted by Telford & Wrekin.

 

The Council’s approach to development is not driven by financial considerations. You will be aware that Telford was designated as a New Town in 1968 with a target population of 220,000.

 

Although this target was subsequently reduced, the Council has maintained its commitment to completing the objectives of the New Town to deliver new homes and jobs to serve the needs of the Borough and to create a sustainable community.

 

There are currently three large scale developments on site in Telford. These are the two major urban extensions on site at Lawley and Lightmoor and the former Millennium Community site at Ketley. All three of these strategic sites are on brownfield land in public ownership. With regard to the New Homes Bonus you will be aware that this was introduced specifically as an incentive to encourage Councils to “substantially increase the supply of new homes”. The Chancellor’s recent statement would indicate that he thinks this is working.

 

I feel that your letter implies a wish for greater local control over development however I am aware that when local decisions are democratically taken by the Council that do not accord with your views you welcome the intervention of national Government via the Secretary of State.

 

You refer to the production of the new Local Plan, Shaping Places. The timetable for the production of the Plan was approved by Cabinet in December 2013. There has been no change to the timetable since then. You will be aware that consultation and the duty to cooperate are Government requirements for the production of new development plans and that these processes take time to carry out and evaluate.

 

With regard to Telford & Wrekin Council raising concern with the Government in respect of the implementation of Government planning policy and the implications for development in the Borough, I can inform you that Councillor Charles Smith, Cabinet Member for Housing, Development and Borough Towns, wrote to Nick Boles MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Planning) with copies to Greg Clark MP (Minister of State for Cabinet Office (Cities and Constitution) and Andy Rose, the Chief Executive of the Homes and Communities Agency, setting out his concerns about the Government’s policy regarding housing land supply and seeking his advice. The Council awaits the Minister’s reply.

 

As a result of a recent planning inspector’s decision in Kent, even planning authorities that have an adopted Core Strategy and a five year housing land supply may still be unable to defend their decisions at appeal unless their Strategy has been tested against the NPPF. I believe this further illustrates the Government’s commitment to increasing the supply of housing land in all areas outside the areas of Green Belt.

 

You refer to blame, but the importance of providing an increased supply of new homes across the country is recognised across the political spectrum. The Government has made its position clear through its changes to the planning system, its Help to Buy Scheme, and the Secretary of State’s stance in respect of residential planning permissions and appeals. The National Housing Federation (NHF) has published an evaluation of the housing market in the West Midlands in “Home Truths 2013/14”. The NHF’s analysis highlights the local need for new homes and the difficulty facing households, particularly younger households who are seeking to secure a new home, at the present time.

 

In conclusion, I can assure you that Telford & Wrekin Council is working towards completing the Shaping Places Local Plan and establishing an up to date Development Plan with a deliverable 5 year housing land supply.

 

Yours sincerely

 

Cllr Kuldip Sahota

Leader of the Council

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