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Housing for older people: Are development plans adopted before the latest revisions to the planning practice guidance on housing for older people out of date?

25.09.2020

Following a two-week “virtual” planning inquiry, planning inspector Christina Downes has allowed an appeal and granted planning permission for an “extra care” development of 84 units in Albourne, West Sussex. The appeal was allowed on the basis that the benefits of the scheme (including in particular the delivery of leasehold extra care housing) would outweigh the harm to the character and appearance of the countryside and to heritage assets.

The decision is notable, however, for the Inspector’s finding that the Council’s development plan was up to date for the purpose of paragraph 11 of the NPPF notwithstanding that it had been produced prior to the most revisions to the NPPF and PPG on housing for older people.

The Mid Sussex District Plan 2014 – 2031 was examined against the 2012 NPPF and equivalent planning practice guidance. In June 2019, however, following the HCLG Select Committee inquiry into housing for older people, the Government made amendments to the planning practice guidance (now set out in a separate document) and the NPPF (see particularly paragraph 61).

The Appellant argued that the District Plan was not in conformity with the requirements of paragraph 61 of the NPPF and the PPG (and therefore out of date) because the Plan did not include policies showing how the need for specialist housing for older people would be met. 

The Inspector, accepting the Council’s submissions, rejected that argument. The NPPG and PPG require the assessment of need to be “reflected in planning policies” (paragraph 61 of the NPPF) and ask that plan-making authorities set “clear policies” to address the housing needs of groups with particular needs such as older and disabled people (see paragraph 006 of the PPG). In the case of the District Plan, the Inspector noted that the housing mix policy in the development plan was based on an assessment of need undertaken through a Housing and Economic Needs Assessment (HEDNA) (and addendum) which provided an assessment of the type and tenure of housing needed for older people. The Examining Inspector of the Plan considered the matter of older person’s housing and the policy was found sound, subject to modifications that were subsequently incorporated. The Plan’s housing mix policy indicated that current and future needs of different community groups, including older people, will be met and that if there is found to be a shortfall in Class C2 housing, allocations through a DPD will be considered.  The Inspector noted that “the Planning Practice Guidance is not prescriptive as to how the housing needs of older people are addressed in planning policies” and found that overall, the relevant policies were consistent in her opinion with the guidance and Framework policy, including paragraph 61.

The appeal decision will provide some comfort to those authorities whose development plans were similarly adopted prior to the latest revisions to the NPPF and PPG who may be faced with similar arguments from developers.

However, it must also be borne in mind that despite the absence of any national policy imperative to maintain a 5-year supply of older person’s housing as is the case with housing generally, the Inspector accorded significant weight in the planning balance to the unmet need for leasehold extra care housing. Aside from ensuring that their plans are up to date, local planning authorities will need to be able to demonstrate clearly how any unmet needs for specialist housing are met. Any failure to do so is likely to weigh significantly in the planning balance.

The appeal decision can be found HERE.

Jack Parker appeared for Mid Sussex District Council