Can a National Park promote affordable homes for local people?

The Government says this about National Park Authorities:

‘The Authorities have an important role to play as planning authorities in the delivery of affordable housing. Through their Local Development Frameworks they should include policies that pro-actively respond to local housing needs.’

House prices in parts of Dorset are high in relation to local wage rates. The NP’s ability to promote truly affordable housing will help local people.

 

For example, the South Downs NPA (our close and most relevant comparator) has a policy that 40% of homes built should be affordable and available for local people. The aim is that these homes should be managed by providers that do not operate a right to buy policy. Rents can be well below market rents while covenants on the houses ensure they will remain available for local people and that rents will be kept low.

 

Recent approvals by the South Downs NPA include a development of over 400 homes, of which 40% are affordable homes for rent through a Housing Association, on a brownfield site in Lewes.

 

See also our briefing paper “A National Park Promotes Affordable Homes

 

 

Are house prices higher in the NP than in neighbouring areas?

The affordability of homes is a problem in the South and Southwest where people have long sought out the beauty and quality of the local environment. It is difficult to disentangle house prices from the attractiveness of a location’s environment and heritage. NPs are in areas of high landscape quality and house prices reflect this. Equally there are areas where house prices are high (such as areas in Dorset) but where there is no NP nor, in some cases, an AONB. The Planning Inspector for the public inquiry into the Lakes – Dales NP extension said that the evidence was not conclusive either way. The NP can help by addressing the local need for affordable housing for local people.

 
 

 

Will the National Park increase development pressures on neighbouring areas?

In planning law Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and National Parks have equivalent status. Hence if the Dorset AONB evolved into a National Park there should be no notable difference in how much housing is accommodated in that area.

National Parks are not against development; they have a duty to “respond proactively to local housing needs” including for affordable homes, and they approve a higher percentage of planning applications than other local authorities. This is partly because they work closely with local communities, landowners and others (for example, promoting and supporting neighbourhood planning and offering pre-application advice) to achieve appropriate development in the right places. 


We propose that the Dorset Council and the National Park would develop a joint shared Local Plan. Hence, they would agree on the appropriate housing numbers within the designated landscape area. Their view on this should in principle be the same, under the provisions of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and associated guidance, whether the area is an AONB or a National Park. The proposed level of housing development in the joint Local Plan, within and outside the designated landscape area, would be subject to examination by a planning inspector under the provisions of the NPPF and associated guidance. These provide that: “The scale and extent of development within these designated areas [ie AONBs and National Parks] should be limited”. “Great weight” is attached to conserving and enhancing landscape and scenic beauty in both cases. The NPPF also provides that, where an area is shared by a National Park and a neighbouring planning authority, a local methodology may be used for calculating housing need in place of the government’s standard methodology. Any alternative approach should take as its starting point the area’s projected demographic growth and will be subject to satisfactory justification at examination. This relatively new NPPF provision is as yet untested.


It is for all local authorities to determine an appropriate level of housing to meet the needs of their areas. In doing so, they will have regard to any environmental and infrastructure constraints. In relevant cases, where planning authorities neighbour a National Park area, planning inspectors have found certain councils’ local plans sound and accepted evidence in support of their providing for less housing than would be implied by government housing targets.

The Dorset National Park would work in close and supportive partnership with the Dorset Council, bring benefits, resources and added value and help achieve a thriving future for our communities, economy and environment. National Parks have a statutory duty to foster the economic and social well-being of their communities, as well as the duty to cooperate with neighbouring authorities. 
 

 

Will the NP use the Neighbourhood and Local Plans that have been developed or start afresh with a new plan?

The NP will take as its starting point the Neighbourhood and Local Plans that exist. It then consults on and develops a NP Local Plan.

 

The South Downs NPA first developed a broad Partnership Management Plan that set the strategy and context. It then developed a draft Local Plan in close consultation with all its partner local authorities, communities and other stakeholders. The SDNPA has worked with interested local communities to promote the development of Neighbourhood Plans as an important contribution to its draft Local Plan.

 

NPs are not subject to government housing targets. But government policy asks NPs, in their local plans, to “include policies that pro-actively respond to local housing needs,” including a focus on meeting affordable housing requirements to support local employment opportunities and key services.

 

 

Would a Dorset National Park affect the timing of the Dorset Council’s Local Plan?

A Dorset National Park would take some years to be in place and initially would develop with the Dorset Council and others a Partnership Management Plan. Only then would the Dorset Council and the National Park work together to develop an agreed, shared Local Plan, and the National Park would pay for much of its development and delivery by a joint planning team.  This would free up Council resources for other priorities across the area. The Council could continue to employ the planning team, augmented and substantially funded by the National Park from its central government grant (probably around £10m p.a.)

 

The Dorset Council can continue to focus on developing its Local Plan for 2023/24 and thereafter work in partnership with the National Park to agree a shared agenda on which the National Park with its substantial resources would support and help deliver the Council’s work and benefit all of Dorset.