By Associate Director, James Ellis.
Some of the most valued heritage in our rural British towns, villages and hamlets is the result of small-scale residential development that has taken place in previous centuries. Modest, incremental and organic growth of villages, well-designed and built to last using good-quality materials.
Think, for example, ‘Hovis Hill’ in Shaftesbury or many of the historic groups of village houses seen in TV shows such as Endeavour or Downton Abbey. Would they receive permission if the subject of a planning application in the 21st century? We think they should, but is the answer that simple anymore?Above: ‘Hovis Hill’ Shaftesbury – how many objections would this handful of houses receive if the subject of a planning application in the twenty first century and would it get planning permission?
There is a clear housing supply shortfall in the UK. And we are all aware of the pressures that local authorities are under to approve applications for large-scale residential development in order to maintain a suitable solution for housing supply. Whilst these larger developments can and should be designed and built to a high quality, it isn’t unfortunately, always the case. In our experience, smaller housing sites brought forward by or designed for smaller, local housing developers can often reflect higher standards of design and materials in new build, setting the benchmark against which other housing developments should be considered. Whilst many new housing developments are controversial it is often these smaller developments which, if approved, are more sensitive and less impactful than larger ones, and create the unique and valued village and townscapes of the future.
Rural Solutions is passionate about responsible and sustainable design and development in the rural context and therefore is keen to promote the delivery of these smaller developments through the planning process. Too often, achieving planning consent for these small-scale developments can be disproportionately difficult. Local authorities, in the face of local objections and related political pressure, do not always give sufficient weight to the benefits of smaller sites in terms of the contribution they can make to housing supply and the sustainability of smaller villages.
Take the case of a development we proposed in Norfolk. 12 new homes and a new village green with public seating areas and an informal play area were proposed on underutilised and poor-quality grazing land with no public access. Rural Solutions and the applicant had to go to appeal to receive consent, but the local authority could and arguably should have supported this small-scale housing development with public benefits in the first instance. Whilst not without considerable local support, the proposals, almost inevitably for a greenfield development, also received many objections.
Left: 12 new homes and a new village green in Ingoldisthorpe, Norfolk.
Thankfully, the government has noted the lack of support that too often stymies smaller housing developments. The revised consultation draft National Planning Policy Framework released in March 2018 for consultation includes specific support for the important contribution of smaller housing sites to housing supply, stating that:
‘Small sites can make an important contribution to meeting the housing requirement of an area and are often built-out relatively quickly.’
It goes onto state that local authorities should ensure that ‘at least 20% of the sites identified for housing in their plans are of half a hectare or less’.
Some even smaller housing sites will be too small to be formally allocated for development in Local Plans and the Government supports the development of windfall sites through their policies and decisions – giving great weight to the benefits of using suitable sites within existing settlements for homes.
The consultation draft also calls upon neighbourhood planning groups to consider the allocation of small sites in plans.
Many local authorities do already support smaller housing sites and take a positive policy approach for applications relating to them. Craven District Council has introduced a specific policy in its new local plan which means that all settlements in the plan area, including hamlets and small villages, are suitable in principle for small scale (less than five houses), or bigger developments where there are special circumstances to warrant this, on non-allocated sites.
It is hoped that the new national approach to small scale housing sites will encourage more to do the same.
I myself live in a small development of ten well-designed and built homes in a village setting. The site of these new houses was that rare thing, a relatively large brownfield site in a relatively small village. So often these brownfield sites do not exist in villages and small-scale development on the outer edges of villages on green fields will be required to allow growth (and support local services and ensure sustainability). This is how many of the historic villages that are so valued today grew one hundred or two hundred years ago, leaving a valued legacy. This is how many villages continued to grow in the 20th century, although we must learn the lessons where appropriate from the poor design and build quality that was too common. Today, landowners and developers should not be afraid to promote and local authorities to approve small-scale, well-designed and built new housing developments that meet housing need in a sensitive way.