How councils are approaching housing delivery test action plans

This article explains the response of local authorities required to produce a plan because of housing delivery under-performance.

Q What is a housing delivery test action plan (HDTAP) and where are the requirements set in policy?

The housing delivery test was initially trailed in the Fixing Our Broken Housing Market housing white paper and launched in the National Planning Policy Framework in July 2018. It appears in paragraph 75, where it requires councils who haven’t met the relevant delivery threshold "to assess the causes of under-delivery and identify actions to increase delivery in future years". The content and process is explained towards the end of the Housing and economic land availability assessment planning guidance.

Q What are the practical steps that a council has to follow to publish an HDTAP?

A This will depend on context, but in general a council will need to go through a four-step process prior to publication: assembling an evidence base of the delivery pipeline; performing a root cause analysis of the issues; creative and collaborative action planning to boost delivery; appropriate consultation. This leads naturally into a process of implementation and monitoring.

Councils will need to decide whether the HDTAP requires ratification at full council or whether it can be published via delegated powers. There is a time limit of six months for HDTAP production, so it is unlikely that councils will go through extended and formal consultation processes.

Q What happens if councils fail to produce an action plan or make a poor attempt at one?

There is no requirement to get an HDTAP checked or "signed off" in any way, nor to submit it to the government. Councils just need to publish them, with appropriate signposting, on their own website.

The lack of an explicit sanction for non-compliance probably will not lead to widespread failure to publish HDTAPs. It is likely that a poor or absent HDTAP will make it difficult for councils to argue that their local plan is up to date, and might also be used in appeal context to cast doubt on a land supply position. However, it is also the case that councils need to be proportionate in their efforts and for some, where the causes of under-delivery are straightforward, their HDTAP should be short and simple.

Q How have councils responded to this new requirement?

A It is early days to understand the response properly, but initial indications show feelings fall into three main camps: hope that the HDTAP will be an effective feedback loop and help to draw out the underlying reasons for development not moving as fast as possible; frustration that the HDTAP works on such a short, annual cycle (this is not a good fit for the development process, which takes many years); and recognition that monitoring has suffered because of staff and budget cuts, and is a crucial part of the planning system.

This is just the beginning of a long-term process, so it will take time for it to bed in and for feelings to settle down.

Q How does the HDTAP fit alongside the annual monitoring report, the housing strategy and all the other bits of monitoring that councils already do?

It is very important that the HDTAP is not seen as a separate function from existing monitoring work. There are very straightforward links between the action plan and the data and thinking in the planning department that lie behind monitoring the five-year land supply and monitoring the housing delivery of the local plan.

There are also some important crossovers to housing strategy, regeneration and infrastructure planning. In some councils the HDTAP has provided a reason and a focus to spend time and energy examining what happens post-planning decision. Additionally, many councils expect better results working corporately than just thinking about things in the planning department.