The vast majority of recent ministerial decisions on housing appeals have been in Conservative seats and a significant proportion of them have been refused against the Inspector’s advice, according to research by national law firm Irwin Mitchell.
Irwin Mitchell looked at the 69 called-in applications or recovered appeals involving housing proposals issued in Sajid Javid, the community secretary’s, name since he took office in June and found 64 involved sites in Conservative constituencies. “That 93% – a pretty amazing statistic,” said Carl Dyer, Irwin Mitchell’s Head of Planning. “Particularly given the Tories only have 56% of English MPs.”
The research also reveals that in those call-ins or appeals are 14 where Javid refused permission contrary to a recommendation from the Planning Inspector that permission should be granted. And of those 14 decisions, 13 (also 93%) were in Conservative held seats. The exception was Speaker John Bercow’s Buckingham constituency, where plans for 130 homes were refused in July.
“Those 14 decisions represented nearly 2,400 homes, which could have permission if the Secretary of State had upheld the Inspectors’ recommendations,” said Dyer. “Or put it another way: Mrs May announced £2 billion of spending to deliver just 5,000 more affordable homes a year for five years. The numbers are not directly comparable: but Javed’s refusals – if sustained for the life of a Parliament – correspond to about a billion pound worth of housing provision.”
Dyer voices frustration at growing ministerial intervention on housing schemes since the 2015 election and believes that the recovery threshold for ministerial intervention, currently set at 150 units outside neighbourhood plan areas, should be raised to something like 1,000 homes. “It’s crazy that ministers are getting involved in schemes of a few dozen homes. Below 1000, the government should leave well alone,” he said.
Conflict with emerging or adopted neighbourhood development plans (NDPs) also featured in eight of the 14 schemes refused against inspectors’ advice. “It appears that the Secretary of State is giving more weight than his inspectors to neighbourhood plans. These are certainly more popular in the south of England, where the Conservatives have more seats.”
Dyer concluded, “We have a bizarre scenario – the Secretary of State tasked with delivering more housing has personally refused 2,397 homes – almost all of the in the constituencies of Conservative MP’s – that his inspectors said should be approved. And then he stood up at the Conservative Party Conference and said that too many decisions were being made by people opposed to any development. One can only question how committed he really is to solving the current housing crisis.”