Government punishes Haringey Council over missed housing target
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Government has restricted Haringey Council’s planning powers, making it easier for developers to gain approval for new houses.
Lib Dem councillor Dawn Barnes said she fears the council will now be "forced to approve totally unsuitable developments”.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the move was a “consequence” of the borough failing to meet a three-year house-building target.
But Labour council chief Joseph Ejiofor questioned the fairness of the process, saying councillors had granted permission for sufficient homes but developers had not built them.
He said rivals were “blaming the council for a clear failure of the private sector”.
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Experts say the rules incentivise developers to delay works and miss targets, as the council's punishment clears the path for more objectionable developments.
What does it all mean?
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Between 2017/18 and 2019/20, the government says 4,379 new homes should have been built in Haringey.
But only 2,636 - 60% of that target - went up.
In January 2021, councils which had not met at least 75% of their three-year targets had their planning powers restricted.
The MHCLG confirmed Haringey is one of more than 50 councils which must now consider planning applications under a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”.
The rule, which only affects sites not included in a council’s local plan, says councillors must give more weight to national housing directives than local considerations.
The MHCLG said this means the council “should approve applications for housing unless there are clear reasons not to”.
Its examples of acceptable reasons to reject applications were “environmental constraints” and “flood risk”.
The blame game
The Lib Dems said Labour was elected on a promise to build 1,000 council homes but is instead on course to deliver around a fifth of that figure.
“Now we see that Labour are not only failing on delivery of social homes, they are failing on delivery of any homes at all,” said Cllr Barnes.
But Cllr Ejiofor said 4,500 homes are already under construction and another 3,700 had been approved.
“Incidentally, many of these developments were opposed by Haringey Lib Dems,” he added.
“Councils have power to grant planning permission for building housing. Once this is done, it is beholden on private developers to meet targets.”
A Labour source, who did not wish to be named, said some criticism of the administration was justified.
“We had an election pledge to build 1,000 council homes over the length of this council,” they said. “Part of that pledge was to set up our own building team. We haven’t done any of that.
“Instead of building our own, we – the great ‘Corbyn Council’ – have been crawling to developers and buying properties from them, off plan, for hundreds of thousands of pounds each, spending money like drunken sailors on shore leave.”
Is it fair?
Even if the council had built 1,000 social houses, it still would not have hit its target.
Cllr Ejiofor complained that the government “sets targets for the private sector to build homes and then seeks to punish councils if these homes are not built.”
His criticism echoed a 2019 report by the Royal Town Planning Institute, which warned that the rules were a developer’s charter.
Authored by a professor and a doctor from UCL’s School of Planning, it said the rules provided “a strong disincentive to housing developers to deliver”.
If developers gain planning permission and then do not build, the local authority has its planning powers curbed, making it easier for the developers to gain approval for other projects which might previously have been blocked.
“This rewards the developer for failing to develop and penalises the local authorities where it has no powers to act,” the report said.
The Ham&High asked the MHCLG what assurance it could provide that Haringey residents would not be adversely affected by inappropriate developments as a result of this intervention.
It did not answer the question.
An MHCLG spokesperson said: “The Housing Delivery Test helps ensure local housing need is being delivered, and offers greater transparency about the level of housing delivery in an area.
“We will continue to support councils and we are encouraging them to seek support where they are facing challenges with housing delivery.”