On 6 November, the CLA hosted a roundtable to discuss the Planning Passport concept that we have developed with Jo Lavis from Rural Housing Solutions. The roundtable was extremely well attended with representatives from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC), Defra, the Centre for Policy Studies, rural housing associations, local authorities and CLA members.
What is the Planning Passport?
The Planning Passport is a proposed policy which would split the planning process for affordable housing on Rural Exception Sites (up to 15 homes) in two stages. Similar to the existing Permission in Principle route, the Planning Passport would grant stage one permission to sites which have agreed tenure, location and can demonstrate a level of community engagement.
Then at stage two, the technical details consent stage, the applicant would need to provide more information, surveys, etc. This two-stage approach would make development on Rural Exception Sites less risky and quicker for both applicants and local authorities.
Before the roundtable, the CLA engaged with stakeholders from those involved with developing rural housing to integrate their needs into the Planning Passport. This included taking a paper to CLA national committees.
The government’s ‘Unleashing Rural Opportunity’ report committed to “[engaging] with stakeholders to explore whether there could be a greater role for permission in principle to unlock small-scale housing”, and the roundtable was held at the request of DLUHC to meet this promise.
‘Hesitation’ could be a word to describe DLUHC officials as we started discussions. There were questions about why the Rural Exception Site Planning Passport would be used more widely than the existing Permission in Principle route.
Attendees noted the inclusion of community engagement at every stage of the Planning Passport, and observed more confidence from local authorities that the route would require fewer resources. There were also talks about how obtaining a stage one Permission in Principle enabled applicants to shore up funding for schemes.
DLUHC sited existing pre-application services as an alternative, but all in the room acknowledged that these are not binding and can result in a lot of nugatory expenditure by applicants, and in some cases local authorities have withdrawn these services when resources are scarce.
Defra were hugely supportive of the Planning Passport, saying that they could “see no downside” to it. By the end of the session, DLUHC officials were cautiously positive, and could not deny the support shown in the room by such a broad section of those involved in delivering rural affordable housing.
It was requested that the CLA collate a short summary of the discussions, including an estimation of the scope of impact if the Rural Exception Site planning policy were introduced. Early estimations suggest that if every rural local authority delivered just one Planning Passport scheme, it could add circa 1,000 homes to total delivery compared to only 548 homes that were delivered on Rural Exception Sites in 2022. It was particularly noted that if the Planning Passport were introduced for landowners, this could unleash a significant number of rural sites and deliver more rural affordable housing.
The CLA hope the next step will be to obtain DLUHC ministerial support for the Planning Passport. Recently we saw the appointment of the 16th Housing Minister in 13 years; hopefully the new Minister will be open to hearing new and innovative ideas.
The CLA is always looking for case studies of where members have tried, successfully or unsuccessfully, to deliver rural affordable housing for their communities. Please email any relevant experiences you have to email@example.com, as they are vital for our lobbying efforts.