Planning loophole causes house-building glut

11th Sep 2014

"Failure to meet unrealistic land supply targets" reason for development in 72% of appeals

A new research paper from the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that steep targets for the amount of land councils must allocate for housing are opening the door to major housing developments in the countryside.

The paper, Targeting the countryside, studies the appeal decisions on applications for major housing developments on greenfield land between March 2012 and May 2014. It finds that planning inspectors overturned the decisions of local councils in 72 per cent of cases where there was no defined land supply. 27,000 houses were granted planning permission in this way – which is around 8.5 per cent of all houses planned across the country in that period [1].

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) requires local councils to demonstrate a five year land supply for housing in an attempt to boost house building. Councils without a local plan are powerless to decide where developments should go in their area, but only 17.6 per cent of councils have had plans approved by Government. This is often due to the onerous criteria in constructing viable plans [2].
Furthermore, those who have not managed to meet their targets face the punishment of finding an extra 20 per cent of land as a ‘buffer’ to ensure ‘choice and competition’.

Earlier this year, CPRE South Yorkshire strongly criticised the report of the Government’s Planning Inspector on the Rotherham Core Strategy, because it required Rotherham to increase its housing land targets far in excess of the numbers likely to be built. This will also have knock-on effects for neighbouring areas including Sheffield, Barnsley and North-East Derbyshire.
The paper, Targeting the countryside, studies the appeal decisions on applications for major housing developments on greenfield land across the country between March 2012 and May 2014 (where local councils had rejected applications for developments of 10 or more houses). The research also shows that one in six local refusals was overturned by a planning inspector even when a council was meeting its targets. 

Andrew Wood, planning officer at CPRE South Yorkshire, comments: “This research confirms what we’ve been seeing in South Yorkshire. Local councils are being pushed to supply too much land in pursuit of unrealistic housing targets. The Government has repeatedly moved the goalposts, requiring more and more land supply for housing, way beyond the likely growth of the housing market and with very weak mechanisms to provide affordable housing. The result is that councils are forced to allocate greenfield sites and compromise the Green Belt, without any real hope of addressing local housing need. It also makes it much harder for them to revitalise towns and cities through the recycling of brownfield sites.

Worse still, if the council can’t prove it has a 5-year land supply, based on these inflated targets, then we’ll see more speculative planning applications for sites in the Green Belts around Rotherham, Sheffield and Barnsley, with decisions often being determined on appeal by central Government, against the wishes of the local authority and local people.

The Government should remove the automatic presumption for development where there is no five year land supply. It should immediately stop demanding an extra 20 per cent housing land requirement from councils already struggling to meet targets. And it should enable local councils to resist speculative planning applications on controversial sites before the Local Plan has been completed.


[1] Targeting the countryside: the impact of housing land supply requirements on green spaces and local democracy is available here:

[2] These criteria include finding the required land to meet demanding short-term housing targets, discarding recent house building rates, and compensating for ‘under delivery’ of housing in the past even if those previous targets had been agreed with and approved by Government.

[3] The regional breakdown of appeals examined is as follows:
East Midlands: 54
East of England: 23
National Parks: 1
North East: 9
North West: 52
South East: 60
South West: 59
West Midlands: 33
Yorkshire: 18