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 National Park’s ability to promote truly affordable housing will help local people, our communities and the economy.
 
The South Downs National Park (Dorset’s 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 below market rents while covenants on the houses ensure they will remain available for local people and that rents will be kept affordable.

 

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

 

 

Is there a house price premium in National Parks?

There has been interest in whether there is a house price premium in National Parks and how far any premium relates to the National Park itself or to other factors.

 

The survey that is regularly quoted is that by Nationwide[1]. This suggests that houses in National Parks attract an average 20% house price premium.  The counter argument is that the premia relate to the attractiveness and desirability of an area, and that while National Parks are undoubtedly attractive and desirable areas, so are many other places. For example, house prices are high in many parts of Dorset and a survey a few years ago by Metropolis Surveyors said that the Purbeck area of Dorset was the least affordable area in the country with average house prices 14 times average salaries. [2][3]

 

The Chief Economist at Nationwide says that National Parks are not the only areas in the country that attract a premium. Nationwide aims to undertake more work including on house prices in AONBs. “We are expecting to also see premia for AONBs. I suspect that some of the price premium associated with National Parks relates to the attractiveness of rural areas and countryside, rather than National Park designation. Of course, the protection offered by designation and boost to tourism & local businesses may itself increase their appeal.”[4]

 

The New Forest National Park

There has been a misunderstanding on a possible house price premium in the New Forest National Park. The Nationwide survey suggests that on the basis of their evidence, the average house price in the New Forest in the year to September 2020 was £475,000. 20% of this would suggest a premium of £95,000. But Nationwide say this figure cannot be used as a premium “as it is not possible to estimate an individual premium for each National Park”.  Both the number and size of houses that happen to have been sold in any year will inevitably vary, and direct comparisons cannot be made[5]. Any premium may also apply to other desirable areas and Nationwide will undertake further work on this. Because of misunderstandings, “we will look at how these [figures] are presented.”

 

[1] https://www.nationwide.co.uk/-/media/MainSite/documents/about/house-price-index/2020/National_Parks_Special_2020.pdf

[2] https://www.metropolis-surveyors.com/blog/revealed-least-affordable-places-britain-buy-property   May 2017

[3] The average price paid for a house in Purbeck in the 12 months to May 2021 was £403,799 (£418,500 in the 3 months to May 2021) https://www.zoopla.co.u/house-prices/isle-of-purbeck/

[4] Private communication

[5] The Nationwide survey in December 2013, for example, suggested an average house price of £336,000 in the New Forest.

 

 

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 evolves into a National Park there should be no notable difference in how much housing is appropriately accommodated in that area nor therefore additional pressures in other areas.

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.