Sheffield Council officer says authority could have weakened powers to refuse housing developments for 'a long time' after planning inquiry loss

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A Sheffield Council officer said the authority could have weakened powers to refuse housing developments for “a long time”.

It follows two planning inquiries that highlighted how the absence of an up-to-date Local Plan and a five-year deliverable housing supply leaves the council unable to reject housing developments except in extreme cases.

The most recent inquiry related to outline plans for up to 85 homes on greenfield land in Deepcar. The council overwhelmingly rejected these plans last year but the developer appealed. Following a five-day review, a planning inspector overturned the council's decision and granted permission for the estate.

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In a report, the inspector said the council claimed to show a 5.4 year supply of housing but found no evidence to back this up and that it actually had a deficit in the five year requirement of at least 3,214 homes and a supply of just 3.95 years. Meanwhile, it's current Local Plan (made up of the Core Strategy from 2009 and the Unitary Development Plan from 1998) was found to be too outdated to have any real influence.

Campaigners at the site.Campaigners at the site.
Campaigners at the site.

Without a five-year supply, favour is always given to new homes unless harmful impacts significantly outweigh this need, as in the case of the recent Loxley Valley planning inquiry.

The council does not expect to finalise its new Local Plan, which will set out where developments should go around Sheffield, until 2023.

There is concern that housing developers will have their pick of land until these two important pieces of work are updated.

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Reacting to the outcome of the Hollin Busk case and criticism of the council's defence, a spokesperson for the council said: “If we were able to stop [the Hollin Busk development] we would, but under current planning laws we have done all that we can to protect the site. The inspectors decision was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that the Government has increased Sheffield’s housing target by 35 per cent, and insists that we must have at least a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, while encouraging the protection of designated Green Belt land.

“In our efforts to protect Green Belt land and other countryside locations, including Hollin Busk, we do not currently meet this requirement, which could result in losing much of our powers to refuse other housing development applications.

“We are aware of the need to establish a new Local Plan and to identify other locations that will meet the five-year demand and our housing targets. This is one of the key priorities within our One-Year plan for the city, and we intend to share timescales for the new local plan following the cooperative-executive meeting in September.

“As the developer progresses plans for the site we will look at how we can work with them to make sure these bring the most benefits to the area and that some green space is retained on the site.”

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At yesterday’s planning and highways committee, councillor Andrew Sangar asked how long they will have to deal with the tilted balance to which Lucy Bond, planning officer, replied: “Until we can demonstrate a five-year housing supply, so a long time.”

Coun Peter Garbutt said: “It means that there is even less opportunity for us to weigh benefits and dis-benefits of particular applications. Tilted balance means we are almost bound to accept an application and that really makes me feel, well, it fills me with dread.”

When the new Local Plan is finally in place it will guide developments until 2038.