National Organisation of Residents Associations


NORA Response to NPPF Review of Housing Policy



The UK housing problem needs both a short-term solution to meet today's demands and a long-term vision to respond to the predicted major 30% increase in the population from the current 64 million to 85 million by 2080 (Eurostat 2015 'People in the EU'). The prediction is based on the rising birth-rate exceeding the expected death rate by nearly nine million and a net migration figure of nearly 12 million. NORA members concerned to protect our unique environment just wonder where all the extra people are going to live.

This Consultation Paper seeking to facilitate the building of new houses for sale may provide some of the short-term remedy, but NORA members question the logic of the proposals and doubt that they would prove effective. Nearly all Local Authorities have already ensured a five-year supply of land ready for the building of dwellings, but for a variety of reasons developers appear unable to proceed as quickly as they might. It would seem more appropriate to research the reasons for the delays rather than to press for more planning approvals. There is also a great need for affordable rented accommodation, since a substantial minority of the community cannot afford to own their own homes. NORA members fear that the emphasis on starter homes will diminish the pressure to produce homes for renting for those with incomes that cannot support ownership of their home. There is even some doubt that starter homes will have a significant effect on solving the housing crisis.

NORA members are naturally concerned to protect their environment both in their own interests and in the interest of future generations. To sacrifice the amenity and beauty of our unique urban and rural heritage by pressurising planning approvals when developers cannot fulfil their existing promises seems unwise, and this view is reflected in the NORA responses to the twenty three questions in the Paper. Concerns, that development will occur in undesirable locations where infrastructure is inadequate and services are not available, are expressed. That a significant proportion of the community cannot aspire to home ownership is not addressed, and the pressure to undertake ownership, that is not sustainable, will lead to considerable distress when failure becomes apparent.

So this NORA response supports
• prioritising development on brownfield sites
• new Building Standards to become mandatory so that all new homes are more fit for purpose
• more regard paid to the need for affordable rented homes.
• penalties for developers failing to build homes where they have planning consent.

Response to Questionnaire


Q1. Do you have any comments or suggestions about the proposal to amend the definition of affordable housing in national planning policy to include a wider range of low cost home ownership options?


Widening the definition of 'Affordable Housing' in the NPPF to allow relevant planning decisions to include other types of subsidized or discounted dwellings is supported provided that, where public funding is involved in the subsidy or the discount, the public funding is retrievable in perpetuity. If appropriately controlled, it would ensure that a bank of Affordable Housing is established and retained. Otherwise the availability of long-term Affordable Housing will inevitably diminish as sales occur, so that pressure for more such properties will be ever present.

Furthermore to allow public funding of housing to turn into private gain is not acceptable.

Perhaps it would be also appropriate to include affordable housing for rent, since a significant proportion of the up-and-coming generation has realised that purchase will always be beyond their income, so that a life of renting their home lies before them.

Q2. Do you have any views on the implications of the proposed change to the definition of affordable housing on people with protected characteristics as defined in the Equalities Act 2010? What evidence do you have on this matter?



Q3. Do you agree with the Government's definition of commuter hub? If not, what changes do you consider are required?

The definition is accepted, but the assumption of this section is that all commuter hubs have the same setting and can be regarded as equivalent. Since it includes every stop on any journey whether by train, tube train or tram, it covers city centre terminals and any suburban area with a tram stop, train or underground station.

To use 'feasibility' as the criterion in the NPPF to warrant the need to increase the density could provide developers with 'material' argument to justify unacceptable or inappropriate developments - for example high-rise development. Accordingly the appropriateness and acceptability of increasing the density must also be relevant.

Local Planning Authorities are best placed to assess the feasibility, the appropriateness and the acceptability of an increased density of dwellings in such locations, so these added criteria are essential. LPAs are well aware of the pressures from developers to increase the density of their proposals, so perhaps there is no need to apply further NPPF pressure to increase their assessments.

Q4. Do you have any further suggestions for proposals to support higher density development around commuter hubs through the planning system?


It is essential that any development in relation to commuter hubs must have adequate infrastructure to service the development and sufficient parking facilities to ensure that the commuters and visitors do not need to park on adjacent residential areas and damage their amenity.

Q5. Do you agree that the Government should not introduce a minimum level of residential densities in national policy for areas around commuter hubs? If not, why not?



Q6. Do you consider that national planning policy should provide greater policy support for new settlements in meeting development needs? If not, why not?


Where developers consider it appropriate to build new settlements, Local Planning Authorities are competent to support or refuse them when assessing the siting and the facilities involved, and the current support in the NPPF for this policy is clear enough.

Q7. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of brownfield land for housing? If not, why not and are there any unintended impacts that we should take into account?


The failure in the original NPPF to prioritise the development of brownfield sites was generally considered regrettable. The NPPF seeks only to 'encourage the effective use of previously undeveloped land' (para 17: 8th principle), and NORA members wish to strengthen this policy by replacing 'encourage' with 'prioritise', so that use of brownfield sites will be top of the list of sites for house-building. This is seen as both necessary and beneficial to society.

Without such emphasis developers have been enabled to avoid brownfield sites and concentrate their efforts on green field sites and also cast their eyes on Green Belt land even when there were eligible brownfield sites in their vicinity.

Developers are properly concerned that brownfield sites may demand a higher infrastructure cost due to past industrial use than development of green field sites, so the planning process needs to recognise this. On the other hand, some brownfield sites are impractical when there are no other facilities such as adequate transport or community services - shops, schools, medical services, etc. - and to try to provide them would be financially and socially unacceptable. It is also unacceptable that only residential gardens in built-up areas are excluded from brownfield status. Developers could purchase a rural property, demolish it, declare it a brownfield site and then seek to build an estate in an otherwise greenfield site or even on Green Belt land.

Q8. Do you consider that it would be beneficial to strengthen policy on development of small sites for housing? If not, why not? How could the change impact on the calculation of the local planning authorities’ five-year land supply?


Developers and Local Planning Authorities are already fully aware of the value of developing small sites, and small companies are well-placed to build on them. There is no need to strengthen policy, since such development is supported.

However, the suggestion that support should be given to use of land adjacent to settlement boundaries is strongly opposed. The definition of these boundaries by those responsible for Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans is decided only after much debate and discussion at local level, and to allow the boundaries to be breached would undermine any respect and confidence the community had for the planning process.

Q9. Do you agree with the Government proposal to define a small site as a site of less than 10 units? If not, what other definition do you consider is appropriate, and why?


Q10. Do you consider that national planning policy should set out that local planning authorities should put in place a specific positive local policy for assessing applications for development on small sites not allocated in the Local Plan?


Development of appropriate small sites is a no-brainer already.

Q11. We would welcome your views on how best to implement the housing delivery test, and in particular:
• What do you consider should be the baseline against which to monitor delivery of new housing?
• What should constitute significant under-delivery, and over what time period?
• What steps do you think should be taken in response to significant under-delivery?
• How do you see this approach working when the housing policies in the Local Plan are not up-to-date?

By all accounts large developers have large stocks of land either with planning permission for development or expected one day to be granted permission. For one reason or another development is not under way. One key reason, we suspect, is that the price paid for the land was at a time when land was at its most expensive and, even with the rising sale price of housing, it may still not be sufficiently profitable to develop. This needs research to quantify the problem, and strategy designed to solve it. Some estimates suggest that these land banks could provide a million dwellings, but this needs confirmation.

Rather than placing yet more pressure on local authorities to produce more land for development, the Government should produce proposals for ensuring that this backlog of approved but undeveloped land is actually built on, with suitable penalties for developers who fail to so in a reasonable period. Perhaps the 20% profit developers expect needs to be questioned and reviewed.

There are several ways in which fulfilment of building more dwellings could be achieved.

First, the imposition of a land tax on undeveloped land with planning consent for housing and on land without planning consent but purchased by developers for future development would pressurise developers to hasten development.

Secondly, many planning consents have a date imposed for starting development, so by also adding to the consent a condition agreeing a date for completion with financial penalties if the dates were not respected. This type of control is common with contracts for road works and should be acceptable for housing developments. Planning consent could also cease on the agreed date of completion.

Thirdly, measuring housing delivery could be based on the percentage of houses being built in relation to the total number proposed, and penalties imposed if the rate of building is not compatible with fulfilment of the proposals by the agreed date of completion.

If these measures were introduced, then those local authorities, that already have a five year supply of approved housing developments, would have no need for further pressure.

Q12. What would be the impact of a housing delivery test on development activity?

If any pressure, whether from a delivery test or taxation or financial penalties, were to encourage developers to imp lement their planning consents within the five years of the Local Plan, it would obviously meet the expectations of the Local Plan.

A land tax may also expedite the development of any land held by developers that does not have the benefit of planning consent for housing development.


Q13. What evidence would you suggest could be used to justify retention of land for commercial or similar use? Should there be a fixed time limit on land retention for commercial use?

The Government's policy on commercial land appears to us to be rather confused.

On the one hand local authorities are required as part of their Local Plans to take a longer-term view of the need for land for future employment. On the other hand the Government has introduced rules which allow such land to be re-allocated to residential use, largely without any local control. The result is likely to be a patchwork of commercial and residential buildings, with the residential buildings isolated from transport and shopping areas.

It is dangerous to apply a one-size-fits-all policy to all areas irrespective of their local conditions. We suggest that it should be left to local authorities to determine the required balance between the retention or release of land for commercial or similar use under the current planning system.

If a fixed time-limit is to be introduced, we strongly suggest that 3 years would be wholly inadequate and the limit should roughly relate to a full business cycle, implying 8-10 years.

Q14. Do you consider that the starter homes exception site policy should be extended to unviable or underused retail, leisure and non-residential institutional brownfield land?


The result is likely to be a patchwork of commercial and residential buildings, with the residential buildings isolated from transport and shopping areas. It is dangerous to apply a one-size-fits-all policy to all areas irrespective of their local conditions.

There have already been reports of tenants being pushed out of commercial premises to enable owners to convert the buildings to other uses, more profitable but not necessarily more socially useful purposes.

We suggest that these are matters which should be left to local authorities to determine under the current planning system.

Q15. Do you support the proposal to strengthen the starter homes exception site policy? If not, why not?


The result is likely to be a patchwork of commercial and residential buildings, with the residential buildings isolated from transport and/or shopping areas. It is dangerous to apply a one-size-fits-all policy to all areas irrespective of their local conditions.

There have already been reports of tenants being pushed out of commercial premises to enable owners to convert the buildings to other uses, more profitable but not necessarily more socially useful purposes.

We suggest that these are matters which should be left to local authorities to determine under the current planning system.

Q16. Should starter homes form a significant element of any housing component within mixed use developments and converted unlet commercial units?


It should be optional and decided by the LPA. Except for small sites starter homes should not be isolated but included where appropriate in larger housing developments in order for them to be part of a mixed community.

It is dangerous to apply a one-size-fits-all policy to all areas irrespective of their local conditions. We suggest that these are matters which should be left to local authorities to determine under the current planning system.

Q17. Should rural exception sites be used to deliver starter homes in rural areas? If so, should local planning authorities have the flexibility to require local connection tests?

YES to both questions.

Q18. Are there any other policy approaches to delivering starter homes in rural areas that you would support?

To ensure the retention of affordable dwellings including starter homes in rural areas, it is essential that their sale should be limited to those eligible for affordable dwellings and preferably for local inhabitants engaged in rural employment.

Q19. Should local communities have the opportunity to allocate sites for small scale starter home developments in their Green Belt through neighbourhood plans?


We think the requirements of the NPPF and the Local Plan should take precedence, and that this would be a strange exception to the general requirement that Neighbourhood Plans should not contradict or over-ride Local Plans. The tremendous value of the Green Belt appreciated by the community must be protected.

Furthermore infrastructure and services are likely to be inadequate in the Green Belt, but once provided there would be inevitable expansion leading to erosion of the Green Belt, which is in conflict with the general wish to conserve the Green Belt.

Q20. Should planning policy be amended to allow redevelopment of brownfield sites for starter homes through a more flexible approach to assessing the impact on openness?


This is an odd suggestion, which implies that an adverse effect on openness is somehow less important if caused by a particular type of building. Where possible and appropriate starter homes should be part of a mixed housing development. To place a colony of starter homes on brownfield sites would lead to an isolated community suggestive of a ghetto.


Q21. We would welcome your views on our proposed transitional arrangements.

Local Authorities have had and some still have considerable problems in producing their Local Plans. To add transitional arrangements to the burden, when local authority staffing has been reduced and morale is not high, appears insensitive. Our view is that several of the proposals are unnecessary anyway, while those that are acceptable can be introduced without interfering with Local Plans. In our view transitional arrangements are both unnecessary and likely to add to rather than ease the process.


Q22. What are your views on the assumptions and data sources set out in this document to estimate the impact of the proposed changes? Is there any other evidence which you think we need to consider?

In our view there is not much 'data' and certainly not enough data in the document to estimate the impact of the proposed changes. However there is much concern over the effect of diluting the involvement of the local community and the Local Planning Authority in making the decisions that affect their environment.

We have grave concerns regarding the insistence that government must introduce policies that enable a greater proportion of the community to become home owners regardless of their ability to fund them. There has always been a significant section of the community who rent their home, because they either cannot afford the cost of purchase and maintenance of their dwelling or out of choice do not wish to own a property or they have concerns that their freedom to move elsewhere would be restrained.

To lower the standards of planning policy to increase the number of affordable homes without ensuring they remain available to the needy is a short-sighted policy. Currently the cost of new dwellings providing acceptable modern standards of living is considerably higher than the average income earner can afford. The hyperinflation of the housing market over the last thirty years has inevitably deprived a larger proportion of the community of the ability to purchase and maintain their home. Giving them capital to help with the partial or complete purchase of their home does not provide them with the resources to maintain the property. It also entails a high proportion of their income making it unavailable for other purposes. A failure to fund the running costs - mortgage, rent, repairs and maintenance - will lead to properties being possessed to the distress of all. When mortgage rates eventually rise to normal levels, a situation could well arise that echoes the sub-prime mortgage disaster of 2007.

Until incomes rise substantially there will always be a significant need for subsidised rented accommodation.

There is also a concern that the standards of many new dwellings are inadequate for today's use. The proposed new Building Standards are desirable and practical, but they are only enforceable if they are adopted by local authorities. In order to ensure the sustainability of new dwellings, instead of local authorities 'opting in', it would be more effective if the new Building Standards proposals were mandatory but 'opting out' was allowed provided cogent reasons are proffered.

Q23. Have you any other views on the implications of our proposed changes to national planning policy on people with protected characteristics as defined in the Equalities Act 2010? What evidence do you have on this matter?


Whilst the political emphasis of all of these proposals is to provide more housing for purchase, it is shameful that no consideration has been given to the considerable need for affordable housing for rent. National statistics indicate that a significant proportion of those aged 20 to 40 have decided that they should rent rather than purchase their home, because they cannot foresee them ever affording to purchase their home and fund its maintenance. The shortage of rented dwellings, however, is leading to higher rents making it almost as difficult for people to rent as it is to fund the purchase of a property.

The lack of funding schemes for affordable rented homes has led to NORA members concluding that the plentiful government funding for housing purchase is at the expense of funding being found for housing for rent. The substantial minority of the community suffering from this shortage comprise not only people with the protected characteristics defined in the 2010 Equalities Act but also include people who are indigent. They all need rented homes, but they are in short supply and often beyond their means.

February 2016                           Alan B Shrank - NORA chairman