The leader of South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) has asked the Government to revise planning guidance which asks councils to prove a five-year land supply when opposing planning applications.

But planning consultants from Lichfields have told Thames Tap it would be unlikely to persuade ministers unless the Government puts more emphasis on the Build Build Build agenda to drive economic recovery.

In a letter dated July 14, the day hearing sessions started in the SODC Local Plan examination, Cllr Sue Cooper has written to Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick appealing for him to look again at the guidance which, she says, allows developers to build on sites which were not allocated in either Local Plans or Neighbourhood Plans.

The full letter, which was copied to Wantage MP David Johnston and Henley MP John Howell, states:

“I am writing on behalf of South Oxfordshire District Council to highlight the severe problems that we believe exist with the current housing delivery test and to therefore request that you consider revising the 5-year housing supply rules.

“The phrase, 5-year housing land supply, in our opinion is misleading. It incorrectly implies that councils who are unable to demonstrate compliance cannot do so because they have failed to allocate or approve sufficient sites. This, however, is simply not the case for councils with adopted plans with sufficient supply of sites in those plans. Such councils, provided they have approved enough planning applications, by definition should have demonstrated that they have supplied sufficient land for housing.

“If developers fail to build out at the required rates on sites allocated within the local plan and granted planning permission, a council can unfairly no longer demonstrate that it has a 5-year housing land supply.

“When this can no longer be demonstrated, housebuilders can, through their own actions, consequently, demonstrate strong planning grounds for the granting of permissions on new sites that were specifically not allocated in the local plan or neighbourhood plans, or not supported by policies in the local plan or neighbourhood plans – the current rules, therefore, perversely reward the inability of developers to meet their goals at the expense of the local community.

“This undermining of accountable, planned development, can also result in appeals and legal challenges which can be time-consuming, costly and distressing for both residents and councils – while also further undermining faith in the planning process.

“South Oxfordshire, therefore, requests that you consider revising the housing land supply guidance. We would argue that, providing a local planning authority has allocated sufficient land for housing and has not unreasonably withheld planning permissions, they should be deemed to have supplied sufficient sites. This would mean that there would be no housing supply grounds for third parties to demand the release of further land for development that isn’t policy compliant.

“Further, the Council also asks that any measures introduced to ensure the appropriate delivery of homes reinstates the primacy of residents and their elected local representatives. Local representatives know what is in the best interests of their communities and can ensure that the right homes are built in the right places. The planning system should, therefore, reflect this principle.”

However, in weighing up Cllr Cooper’s chances of success, Lichfields says that, while other councils have the same issue, a favourable Government response would depend on Covid-19 recovery plans.

In a joint response to Cllr Cooper’s move, Lichfields senior director Daniel Lampard and associate director Rachel Clements said:” Cllr Cooper’s comments reflect the view of a number of local planning authorities that, whilst they have control over granting planning permission and preparing development plans, they do not have direct control over the speed of housing delivery from sites which are permitted and allocated for development. 

“They are concerned that, in such circumstances, they are unable to prevent the ’tilted balance’ in favour of sustainable development from applying.  Whilst her view regarding ‘the inability of developers to meet their goals’ in housing delivery is held by a large number of local councillors, the Government’s Letwin Review could not find any evidence that the major house builders were land banking – indeed their business models depend on generating profits from the ongoing sale of housing. 

“Lichfields’ Start to Finish research is clear that housing sites can, in some circumstances, take much longer to come forward than might be anticipated for a number of reasons. In a scheme of 100-499 dwellings, on average it takes four years to build the first house from submission of an outline application, increasing to 8.4 years for a scheme of 2,000+ homes.

Save & Exit “The five-year housing land supply (5YHLS) test, therefore, builds flexibility into the planning system to maintain the delivery of homes in such circumstances.  Indeed in the last 18 months the Government have tightened their definition of ‘deliverable’ sites which can be included in 5YHLS calculations.

“This includes being more prescriptive about the stage of the planning process an application is at as well as the need to provide clear evidence for schemes without an implementable permission.  

“The Government’s ongoing support for the 5YHLS means that it is unlikely that Cllr Coopers request will be considered favourably by them although, in the short term, it is possible that the Government might apply a more lenient approach due to the exceptional delivery impacts of Covid-19 – perhaps by relaxing the requirement for a 5YHLS.

“Conversely, another school of thought is that if the Prime Minister’s Build Build Build agenda is to be realised, and the development sector is to help build us out of the current economic crisis, significant weight could be applied through the tilted balance to boost the supply of new housing.”

Image By Chris Heaton, CC BY-SA 2.0,

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