Earlier this month, the CLA published its latest policy briefing*, which argues that more than 2,000 villages in England have been overlooked for housing allocations as a result of out-of-date sustainability assessments carried out by local councils. For those of you who do not fancy reading the entire briefing paper, Planning Resource has published a really good summary, which can be accessed from the link below.**
The general thrust of the argument is that the sustainability assessment process has failed to move with the times and ignores how widespread access to the internet (and broadband in particular) has changed how modern communities function.
It is hardly a new accusation that planning is slow to react to the changing times. A large number of local authorities haven't even managed to update their local plans to take account of the first iteration of the NPPF; let alone adjust to faster moving changes (such as our changing shopping or drinking habits). As such the claim that the sustainability criteria for existing settlements is woefully out of date is depressingly plausible.
In fact, it can be seen as part of a broader trend - namely the planning system's inability to respond to cultural changes driven by technology. Time and time again, we see the system struggle with technology driven changes, such as:
- the rise in short-term lettings of residential properties, through sites such as Airbnb;
- the blurring of the distinctions between use classes as a result of restaurant delivery services such as Uber Eats and Deliveroo; and
- the impact of online shopping on our high streets and traditional retailers.
Given the move towards digitisation and the increasing number of technology driven services, this is a cultural war that is only likely to continue. It will be interesting to see whether the current push towards improving the responsiveness of local plans (through more frequent plan reviews and so on) helps the system to catch up - or whether we are doomed to be out of touch for the foreseeable future....
* link to full report here: https://www.cla.org.uk/sites/default/files/FINAL_CLA%20StrongFoundations%20Sustainable%20Villages%20lo%20res.pdf
** Fair warning - it is behind a paywall.
The report, by the Country Land and Business Association (CLA)....., says that more than 2,000 villages across England "are overlooked by the local planning process as they are judged to be ‘unsustainable’ due to a lack of public services like a post office". .. during the local plan process, councils use sustainability assessments to score settlements on the range of services available... These villages are then placed in a hierarchy according to their score, with the local plan allocating new housing to those towards the top of the hierarchy. ... the assessments "measure villages against a range of services and amenities more akin to how previous generations lived and used services". ... councils should factor in how advances in technology, including ... broadband, "have helped to shape modern life and consider how emerging technology will change rural England".