Whats is the five year land supply - and why does it matter for our villages?
Last week I asked for a seminar to be held at South Cambs District Council about the five year land supply. My request was refused. If anyone has any views on land supply then you can write to the Planning Director. What I wanted was the opportunity for councillors to discuss and test numbers and risks. A bit of a drains-up on the assumptions being made. But as I say, I was refused.
So why does this piece of planning jargon matter?
Let’s start with a village - big or small - in South Cambridgeshire. Under the planning laws, each village is described by the planning authority - which is the district council - in terms of the suitable amount of new houses that can be built in or around it.
If its a big village, like say Sawston or Cottenham or Comberton, with shops, schools, surgeries, good transport links and so on, then it can expect a fair few additional builds. If its a tiny village like Newton, with no shop, no school, a limited bus service (but a cracking good pub) then any developer putting in an application for dozens of houses will find it is refused. Even a village like Whittlesford, which does have a school, a shop, a couple of pubs and a rail station isn’t marked out for a lot of development. And if a village has a lot of Green Belt land, restricting development, then that makes it harder for developers too.
So where are all the houses that the government has told South Cambs have to be built going to go? And let’s be clear, there aren’t enough houses in South Cambs - ask any young couple in decent jobs but travelling huge distances to get to work in our booming economy.
The answer, according to a document adopted last year and called the Joint Local Plan, shared between Cambridge City and South Cambs, is mainly in new towns such as Waterbeach, Northstowe and around Cambourne, and on places like the Wing development east of Cambridge. There is capacity to build 44,000 houses, over the next 20 years. The government only requires the building of 38,000.
But - and here is the but - if a planning inspector in the course of an appeal by a developer whose planning application has been turned down decides that the local council does “not have a five year land supply” then much of the above is for naught. The five year land supply is a calculation on how many houses are being BUILT in a year. So if the developers slow down their house builds, because of recession, or Brexit, or simply because it benefits their business model, then it can happen.
I should mention at this point that is a village has a Neighbourhood Plan, then that offers protection even if the district council can’t demonstrate a five year land supply.
And the risk is that South Cambs may be in a position within a year or so that it loses its five year land supply. It happened before, in 2015, Developers were able to bring forward proposals that would otherwise have been rejected. The five year land supply in September 2019, last month, is now at 5.3, down from 6. You see the trajectory.
If it comes down any nearer to five then the planning inspectors will take an interest - and so will the developers.
But not, on the basis of the decision last week, South Cambs District Council.