RIP the duty to co-operate?

20 Sep 2023

Here at the blog, we have closely followed a bit of a saga that has played out through a series of planning appeals and may finally have reached its conclusion, with yet another inspector concluding that reverting to the nationally imposed standard method of calculating local housing need does not mean tearing up an adopted joint council plan.

In the beginning, three neighbouring Gloucestershire councils co-operated to produce a joint core strategy. When that plan reached five-years old without review, each authority was required by the NPPF to calculate their own administrative area local housing need under the standard method. The rural authority that had accommodated strategic housing allocations meeting the needs of the two urban authorities, more constrained in administrative area and by green belt and area of outstanding natural beauty designations, then unliterally declared that the housing numbers provided by those urban extensions now belonged to their own supply. Hey presto, the council could claim to have a five-years housing land supply, which it couldn’t previously demonstrate.

Maintaining its stance in the face of decisions by two other planning inspectors who found against the advocated approach, the council was again told that its position was not correct by a third planning inspector (200-012-123). In fact, the inspector expressed surprise that the council continued to claim that the urban extensions concerned contributed to its own housing land supply.

The inspector pointed out that the council appeared to have disregarded the statutory basis for decision-taking to be in accordance with the development plan (except when it supported resisting housing proposals in a location contrary to spatial strategy). He went on to specify that “nowhere in the NPPF or PPG is it expressly stated that local housing need was intended as a broader shift to planning on an authority-by-authority basis…..The duty to co-operate remains”. Noting that more than one council was now counting on supply from the urban extensions, the inspector described this as “a bizarre situation” whereby some housing delivery would be occupied once but counted twice. When these sites were discounted from the council’s supply, the inspector found that at best it stood at 3.39 years, which was deemed a significant shortfall.

The inspector concluded by urging meaningful resolution of the bizarre situation through progressing a review of the joint development plan – in other words, please co-operate! Will the council finally accept and lower the drawbridge, or seek judicial review?

DCP 4.2 Development Plans and Policies provides further insight, and DCP 7.131 looks at assessing development proposals against housing land supply and delivery.