For a while now, Whitehall has required the council to place greater weight on building homes due to the low numbers of properties that have been built in the past decade, and the lack of identified sites for development over the next five years.
As a consequence, the authority has no choice but to consider planning applications under a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’.
This is not a developers’ charter, and the council says it will continue to refuse applications where appropriate, but the starting point in national policy is that they should be permitted.
Oliver Boulter, the council’s strategic manager for planning, explained:
“Planning law strictly limits the reasons why applications can be rejected. These are called ‘material planning considerations’. Often, local people opposing applications give reasons that don’t fall into this category, and which must be dismissed according to the law.
“If the planning committee refuse an application against the advice of staff without adequate reasons for doing so, the application is likely to be granted on appeal — and should the reasons for refusal be particularly weak, then the council may be liable for costs and grant loss (re. New Homes Bonuses), which can be substantial.”
Councillor Geoff Brodie, as vice-chair of the council’s planning committee, presided over its most recent meeting. He said councillors recognised that certain planning applications would generate strong local feelings and the committee would always listen to the views of the public.
However, he said the authority had to operate within the context of national and local planning policy and legislation and balance often competing views.
Counillor Brodie said:
“If the council does not comply with national policy and law, then it would lose an appeal and have to pay hefty costs for unreasonable behaviour.
“The number of responses or the strength of feeling to an application cannot be considered in itself to be a reason for refusal as much as many would wish it should be.
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“Local councillors are not to blame for this situation. We did not write these laws or impose these housing targets — this is government legislation which we are compelled to follow or reap the consequences. On the flip-side, we also have to recognise the pressing need for affordable homes on the Island and the limited ways we can achieve its delivery.”
In order to try to have a greater say in how planning applications are determined on the Island, the council has published a revised draft Island Planning Strategy (IPS) for public consultation.
The draft IPS is the first step in this process and includes a range of new policies. It will also help the council fight housing targets set for the Island by government.
Councillor Brodie said:
“At the moment our planning documents don’t do what we want them to do, are out of date, and they don’t always help us prevent things we do not want to see on the Island.
“The new IPS will tackle these issues and, should it be successfully approved by a government appointed inspector, it will enable the council to give greater certainty to communities up-front rather than having to rely on the outdated, current plan for major new development.”
The council must also think about how it deals with a deepening local housing crisis, with a critical shortage of affordable homes to rent or buy as demand now far exceeds supply across the Island.
More than 450 Islanders are currently classed as homeless with just under 2,400 households registered on HomeFinder, the system which the council and its partners use to allocate affordable housing.
In the past 12 months, the Island has also seen an 80% reduction in property available for rent and at the same time private rents have increased. House prices too have risen sharply, on average by just over 11%.
Councillor Brodie added:
“This acute shortage of housing, particularly social and genuinely affordable housing, has led to spiralling rents and house prices across the Island. Many young Islander families on low to middle incomes struggle to afford to rent or buy a decent home.
“A new generation of good-quality social housing would give many more people the chance of a secure home they can actually afford to live in.”