Coronavirus impact set 'to become key issue in arguments over five-year land supplies'

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak is likely to become a key issue in assessing whether councils can demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, particularly in relation to whether sites are 'deliverable', a planning consultancy has said.

In a briefing note circulated last month, DLP Planning said that councils’ assessments of "deliverable" sites will be open to debate, given ongoing disruption to the construction industry during the pandemic.

The note says: “When published, the claims made by local planning authorities on the deliverability of sites could be well out of kilter with what is now happening.”

The note asks: "If in February a housebuilder said they were working 'full steam ahead' for the whole year but by April sites are closed and they've lost at least three months on progress and have finished fewer homes than expected, should these sites still be considered deliverable?"

The briefing note also says that any delays to the publication of annual housing land supply assessments by councils, due to disruption caused by the pandemic, will require inspectors to decide whether local authorities have then failed to meet their requirement to update these assessments annually, in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

DLP added that this year’s Housing Delivery Test (HDT) results, due in November, could be delayed if the site visits required to undertake land use monitoring cannot be conducted while social distancing measures remain in place.

“There is of course the potential for inspectors and decision-makers to simply put the HDT and the five-year land supply to one side on the basis that the present situation represents exceptional circumstances and as such accordance with the NPPF should not be a requirement,” it said.

However, DLP also pointed to planned changes to the government’s standard method for assessing housing need, which are expected to increase delivery targets in urban areas and could put further pressure on councils’ ability to demonstrate a five-year land supply.

“The update to the standard method has been trailed for a long time and should provide a boost to housebuilding and the economy in general,” the consultancy said.

“However, individual inspectors may take into account Covid-19 related issues to the land supply and this could indeed form part of their decision-making.

“Any local planning authority with a marginal five-year housing land supply could argue this point; it was certainly argued in the last recession.

"Therefore, for applicants and appellants it will be very important to counter any leniency because of Covid-19 by clearly setting out the economic benefits of development.”

Consultancy Barton Willmore claimed that the coronavirus pandemic may see the number of new homes created annually plummet by one-third this year and stay around that level for the remainder of the current Parliament.