Cllr Ricky Bower is a councillor for East Preston Ward on Arun District Council and the chairman of the Council’s Planning Policy Committee.

Over the last ten years or so the planning system has become lopsided. Developers have gained control by challenging the objectively assessed housing need (OAHN) figures of those local planning authorities (LPA) struggling to meet Government imposed deadlines on delivering Local Plans. Then they control the rate of housing delivery to the degree they can challenge an LPA’s land supply rate over which developers themselves are in sole control.

I recall while working up our own Local Plan that during the argument over OAHN we argued the annual build rate required hadn’t been achieved year on year over the previous five years by developers so the high OAHN would be undeliverable.

Some LPA’s have succeeded in having their Local Plans being found sound despite these not achieving the OAHN on the basis that the shortfall can be delivered by a rapid review of the Local Plan and to include increased housing delivery via the Neighbourhood Plan process. Some, having faced the consequences of an LP review using the ‘mutant algorithm’ adding thousands to the OAHN, have paused any review while awaiting the stated changes to the process expected from the Secretary of State.

Nevertheless many LPAs with adopted Local Plans are falling behind the five-year land supply figure for the simple reason that permissions granted on sites detailed as strategic in Local plans are not being built once granted – in my own authority that figure is now above 5,000. Only permissions granted once building commences count toward the five year land supply. So why are there so many un-implemented permissions throughout the country?

For a Local Plan to be adopted, there has to be an infrastructure delivery plan based on the infrastructure needs to support the strategic sites, normally delivered through Section 106 developer contributions. Here’s the rub. Having seen the bottom line cost of building out strategic sites including the Section 106 bill, together with the unreliability of key third party infrastructure providers to deliver their part of a Section 106 agreement, developers have found it not in their financial interests to proceed. The alternative is far more beneficial to them and horribly expensive to the communities affected. Most non-strategic sites – those not contained in an adopted Local Plan – do not have the Section 106 burden of strategic sites but are subject to Community Infrastructure Levy. In many cases, CIL is less of a charge on these developments than Section 106 contributions would be, had the site been included in the Local Plan.

The Local Plan system, and the Planning Inspectorate, are being gamed by this process. Appeals are often successful based on the simple statement that a Local Planning Authority is not meeting it’s 5 year land supply; therefore this application on a non-strategic site should be granted. After all, that is what the NPPF calls the presumption for approval. But it is the developers who control the build rate, not the LPA.

With developers controlling the quantum of housing at the plan-making stage and then the quantum being delivered against the five year-land supply (again a rate determined against the OAHN) is it any wonder that the morale of Planners is at rock-bottom and the communities effected feel let down by a process which promised infrastructure improvements for the wider community benefit in return for housing growth?

The Housing Delivery Test is another measurement of developer failure to deliver which penalises an LPA which, as with the five year land supply issue, is developer controlled. Those who claim adopted Local Plans are ‘failing’ miss the point. The Plan lead system has become developer-controlled at all levels. No matter what Government housing targets are, developers will only deliver what is commercially advantageous to them and local communities get treated with contempt.

The five year land supply penalty on Local Planning Authorities must be removed and applied to developers who do not deliver on the strategic permissions they have obtained. Developers must be made to demonstrate they can build at a deliverable build rate before they are granted approval on a non-strategic site.