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.

Oh dear.

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….

11 comments

  • Mr Lee, whilst you have conveyed facts, you have not conveyed all of them, the key one being the Government ban on building housing (due to excessive phosphates). This is clearly beyond SSDC’s control.

    I would also like to correct you on the impact of losing 5yr status.. There is still full application of the NPPF, it is the prioritisation of sites nominated in the Local Plan which is lost. That loss of control has not yet been of great consequence to my knowledge.

    • There’s nothing to correct Peter. The article clearly says it is the Neighbourhood and Local plan that is set aside. It does not at any point suggest NPPF is set aside.
      You are of course right re Phosphates being out of your control. But it was an issue you were fully aware of after receiving Nature England’s letter. Which begs the question, why did you not recalculate your land supply and press release it back in November 2020?

      • Ah yes a reply from the illustrious deputy leader Peter Seib, a man who can out spin a washing machine. His Council fails time after time on service provision, on accountability, on transparency, on borrowing, on treasury management, on honesty (65% anyone?) and yet we’re forced to listen to this utter tripe over ANOTHER failing. Bring on One Somerset and the abolition of this joke of a Council!!

  • Spin, deciet, contempt of tax payers,
    is what we have suffered in South Somerset,
    its the hallmark of fibdem misadministration!

  • I watched all 50 hours of this planning appeal, and some claims made by the Leveller require clarification; there are 2 formulas for working out the housing land supply, one is the standard formula, used by SSDC and accepted by the Planning Inspector as showing over a 5yr supply. The other is a footnote formula (para 73, footnote 37 NPPF). Bizarrely the Planning Inspector has chosen this footnote formula, which does not show a 5yr supply.

    This information is freely available on YouTube (if you have the time to watch it!). I’m hoping SSDC is busy trying to defend our position in light of this questionable result, rather than providing a press release with incomplete information.

    Let’s not forget, the biggest losers in all this are the residents of the historic Village of Templecombe, whose community is about to be consumed by Barrett boxes.

    • It is worth noting that whilst we did not watch all 50 hours, we did read the Inspector’s report. We also read the comment from SSDC which accepts the Inspector is correct. Their precise words are “SSDC currently accepts that it cannot currently evidence a five-year housing land supply.” The actual issue, which Peter Seib has acknowledged on this page, is the result of the Phosphorous problem on the Levels and the brakes being put on development. I can’t say if that was in the 50 hours of viewing, but all sides acknowledge it is the root cause of the problem. This is, as Mr Seib notes, out of the control of SSDC. However it was KNOWN to SSDC back in November and they failed to recalculate the 5 year land supply in the light of that information. Nor did they acknowledge to planners or the public that this could be a problem. But it is and is the real reason why the 5 year land supply cannot be evidenced.

      • Mr Lee, I thank you for your honest acknowledgement of the real problem. Whilst SSDC knew about the temporary impediment to development in November, the impact is still not fully understood. What was presented as the Land Supply is fixed by regulation. The inputs to the standard formula are also fixed, it uses actual historic (i.e. pre-impediment) data and rates.

        The Inspector’s alternate calculation includes subjective assumptions. It is not clear to me at this stage how the Inspector has profiled the phosphate impediment impact. For example what assumptions have been made about the timing of delivery of mitigation through water treatment plant improvements and what assumptions have been made about the “phosphate mitigation credit” trading system which Wessex Water intend? I think even Wessex Water would admit to uncertainty on delivery of “neutral” development through their new mitigation business, but council has been given some encouraging early dates. It is not clear whether we will be allowed to add permissions back in at full rate on the basis of expected of mitigation, restoring deliverability, or whether we will have to wait for Natural England’s approval.

        At this time planners are prioritising a calculation based on the best available data and justified, up to date estimates. In the meanwhile, we are accepting the SoS position. It is possible this recalculation will restore your faith in the integrity of claims.

        Until then the housing delivery policies cannot be given their normal weighting. That does not remove all planning controls, but it does mean things can happen out of intended sequence, such as the Templecombe site mentioned by Pip Brett. I’m sure this brownfield site would eventually have been developed, but we didn’t want it yet.

  • Maybe if SSDC spent a bit more money on actually staffing their planning department and not cutting it to the bare bone then stuff like this wouldn’t get missed…

  • On a similar subject, SSDC had a 40 per cent target for ALL housing development on brownfield sites (PDL) in its Local Plan. In its 2019 Monitoring Report published in January 2020 the council claimed that 46 per cent of new housing since 2006 was on brownfield “so the policy has been met”. As I go around the district I see most new development on greenfield sites – or are we now calling agricultural land ‘previously developed land’ (fields to you and me). Can Mr Seib throw any light on this figure?

    • I’d be happy to.

      You notice the new estates because they’re large and you may not notice the brownfield or infill sites in this count because they are small and designed to fit in, but there are a lot of them in any given year. They tend to be developed by local builders, not the big nationals, which is good.

      There are a few large brownfield sites which are obvious and still in need of development (e.g. Yeovil’s Cattle Market) but these sites will typically require a big public subsidy (something like all of the collected Council Tax for a year) before it’s worth the owner developing them. That level of subsidy requires Central Government funding. When your MP says Yeovil Refresh is underfunded, what he’s really saying is that central government isn’t willing to provide the subsidy for the private sites.

      The numbers reported are precise. The developer’s completion certificate determines when a dwelling is included in the returns to Government and when the Council Tax account is set up for it.

  • The 4 Somerset District Councils did actually write to Jenrick on 3rd December https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/media/4113/letter-to-the-secretary-of-state-from-all-somerset-authorities.pdf and among other things they made the point that the 5 year housing land supply would be unlikely to be achievable due to the phosphates issue. Pincher the Housing Minister wrote back on 26 January https://www.southsomerset.gov.uk/media/4114/letter-of-response-from-rt-hon-christopher-pincher-mp-for-mhclg.pdf saying

    “I note the concerns you raise about meeting the 5-year housing land supply under the current circumstances. However, it is important to keep the planning system moving to enable it to play its full part in the economic recovery to come. We will continue to monitor the situation by engaging with those local authorities who are facing challenges, to determine whether any changes are required.”

    Surely the proactive thing to do now would be for the District Councils to chase up the Minister. Fortunately that Templecombe Appeal (report 6 July) was actually dismissed on other grounds than the 5YHLS. But there is a clear issue if on the one hand the Housing Minister is “monitoring the situation” while at the same time his disconnected Planning Inspectorate is leaving a time bomb behind.

    Six of one, half a dozen of the other. As usual.

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