Oops, sorry we got it wrong
South Somerset District Council published a paper in November 2020. It was full of the usual self congratulatory language that this council has become accustomed to using. They had not just a five year land supply, but a 6 year land supply.
Why should you care if SSDC has a five year land supply or not? Because it has a major impact on planning. If there is a big and inappropriate development near you for instance. If it has no affordable housing in it. If you want to fight it, you may find lots of good grounds to object. Specifically if it runs contrary to a Local or Neighbourhood plan. Then you might well cite those documents. But if a council do not have a five year land supply, current government policy allows Local Plans to be set aside. And Neighbourhood Plans too.
Opposing an inappropriate development is much harder if a council do not have a five year land supply. But no problem you will be thinking, because SSDC does have a five year land supply. Certainly this is what SSDC think. Leader Val Keitch and CEO Alex Parmley made much of the fact that SSDC had a 6 year land supply.
Except that it seems they got their sums wrong. And we have had experience of this authority playing with numbers and getting caught out. The £1m of agency costs incurred during the transformation. That were coded elsewhere and then claiming the transformation was on budget. Or the accounts for Elleston Services in £ instead of £00os. Sums are not their forte.
And once again their numbers have been challenged. This time by Planning Inspector Hayley Butcher. Ms Butcher was asked to rule on an application for 60 dwellings in Templecombe. The application number, if you want to check is APP/R3325/W/20/3265558. The developer, Gleeson Strategic Land Ltd, had been refused permission and appealed. As part of their appeal they challenged SSDC’s figures for the five year land supply.
This is what the Planning Inspector said: “This all gives me sufficient concern so as to question the overall deliverability of the Council’s supply of housing….. Of the figures before me, I lean in favour of the appellant’s housing supply figures which using the standard method with a 5% buffer indicate a five-year housing land supply of between 3.97 and 3.66 years supply.” In other words, she did not think the council had used standard calculations.
SSDC are forced to accept that as of today, not only do they not have a five year land supply, they don’t even have a four year one. Never mind the six they were claiming.
As usual this open and transparent authority, which received the information on 6 July… well you can guess the rest. Not a word on the website, nothing in the way of a press release. This is really important information. The council is now exposed to a serious risk of judicial review. Especially in relation to any planning applications between November last year and now. It could cost the council an awful lot of money,
But for the last week, unless you had access to the Planning Inspectorate website, you would be none the wiser. Happily it is a site we use regularly. But it would be nice if our local authorities did not rely on us finding out about their errors by accident. Especially when they spend so much of their time claiming to be open and transparent.
Subsequent to our post the SSDC Communications team got in touch with us. SSDC confirm the following: As a consequence of this decision SSDC currently accepts that it cannot currently evidence a five-year housing land supply.
They also confirmed that they had not sent out a press release. They confirmed that they did not publish a news item on their website. The reasons being “due to limited resources and other priority matters.”
It is interesting to see that SSDC do not consider this change in land supply to be a priority matter. Instead they claim to have put the notice up in the Planning Section of their website. But failed to do this until 13 July, despite having had the notification on 6th July.
Instead they say “the Strategic Planning department is ensuring the notice is seen by relevant partners and stakeholders, such as parish and town councils….“