WAG Proposal to Disapply TAN 6.2

The Welsh Assembly Government has launched a consultation into the temporary disapplication of paragraph 6.2 of its Technical Advice Note 1 (“TAN”), the document that sets out advice to local authorities in structuring and implementing their development plans.

Paragraph 6.2 provides that local authorities should attach “considerable” weight to the lack of a five-year housing land supply when determining planning applications for housing.

A five-year housing supply forms part of a local authority’s development plan and structures how the local authority will ensure sufficient housing supply to meet demand over that period. Typically, land is promoted as part of any local development plan process and successful sites are “allocated” within the local development plan to be brought forward for development during the plan period.

For a local authority to not have a sufficient 5-year housing supply means that it does not have the capacity to meet demand within its area. This is typically caused by allocated sites not being brought forward for development quickly enough. TAN 6.2 provides, essentially, that picking up any shortfall in housing supply should be a material consideration when determining a planning application for land that is not allocated within the development plan.

The concern that has led to the consultation, voiced by various Councillors and Assembly Members across Wales, is that local development plans themselves are being undermined by the number of “speculative” applications being made outside the parameters of the plan. The proposed disapplication would, to its supporters, prevent erosion of local development plans and enable planning officers to concentrate on applications within the nexus of the plan rather than them being swamped with speculative applications.

To me, the proposed disapplication is both unnecessary and ill-conceived and I make three key observations in respect of it:

1. It is quite misleading to suggest that speculative applications outside a development plan erode or undermine the planning process. Although paragraph 6.2 states that housing land supply should be taken as a material consideration when considering planning applications, it also quite clearly states that the weight of such a consideration should apply “provided that the development would otherwise comply with development plan and national planning policies”.

Any “speculative” development that succeeds does so because it has been judged to be acceptable within planning policy – i.e. on its merits.

2. It is equally disingenuous to suggest that speculative applications erode or undermine a development plan. These applications are being made because development plans are failing to maintain a 5-year supply. They are therefore seeking to bolster and support development plans that are in difficulty. To suggest that the response to a housing shortage is to prevent further planning applications being made is counterintuitive.

3. The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 establishes, at section 5, a sustainable development principle. This places on public bodies an obligation to take into account “the importance of balancing short terms needs with the need to safeguard the ability to meet long term needs, especially where things done to meet short term needs may have detrimental long-term effect”.

Policy makers need to give considerable thought as to whether any disapplication of TAN 6.2 (however short term in nature) would result in a breach of this legislation.

Much has been made in the media within South Wales in recent months of the possibilities that the scrapping of the Severn Bridge tolls will bring and already we are seeing a boom in house prices throughout Monmouthshire as families seek to relocate to this part of the country. What is needed are more homes to meet this demand so that the communities of which they form part can continue to grow and evolve. To suggest that, at a time when Wales needs more houses, the planning system should be changed so as to stymie supply is incredibly short sighted. The Welsh Government needs to give careful thought to what kind of a message this is sending to people who are invited to live and work in Wales. To this writer, that message comes across quite clearly – if the TAN 6.2 consultation results in disapplication Wales is closed for business to developers whilst it tries to get its house in order.

This article was written by RDP Director James Davies.