Councils face tough task to defend planning applications, according to new study

The findings of a study into North Devon and Torridge's five-year land supply could be 'lethal' for preventing developers building on greenfield sites.

With the joint North Devon and Torridge Local Plan set to be adopted next year, there are still doubts as to whether or not North Devon Council (NDC) can demonstrate a five-year land supply for house building - meaning hundreds of extra houses may need to be approved.

Authorities are expected to meet the requirement of new homes, plus a five per cent 'buffer', according to a council statement from March.

If the planning inspector deems that a council is consistently under delivering, a 20 per cent buffer can be requested instead.

Cllr Eric Ley, chairman of North Devon Council's planning committee, said: "This, along with the fact that the local plan isn't in place, is lethal.

"You can't blame developers if they target more greenfield sites. They will probably never have an opportunity like it again until the local plan is in place, unless we can demonstrate this five-year land supply.

"It all comes down to who interprets it and in which way."

The emerging local plan identifies a need for 17,220 houses across North Devon and Torridge to 2031 - 8,768 
in North Devon.

That equates to 438 per year - a figure which NDC has not met for the last eight years.

If the buffer is 20 per cent rather than five, it would mean almost 400 more houses would be needed in the next five years.

Planning committee vice chairman Cllr Jasmine Chesters said: "We are putting the local plan together but the goalposts keep being moved by the Government.

"Until the local plan goes through, I think we are going to face difficulties, especially at appeals."

The council has already lost appeals - including an overturned decision on 135 houses in West Yelland earlier this month.

The planning inspector wrote in their report: "Housing applications should be considered in the context of the presumption in favour of sustainable development.

"In this case, the council cannot demonstrate a five-year supply of deliverable housing sites, so its relevant policies for the supply of housing cannot be considered up to date."