Improvement to housing delivery but targets still missed

Enfield Council remains under ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ order from government, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Housing under construction in Enfield
Housing under construction in Enfield

The number of homes built in Enfield has jumped by 73% year-on-year but remains below targets set by the government.

There were 853 new homes completed in the borough in 2020/21, up from 492 during the previous year and 496 in 2018/19.

Despite the recent improvement, the borough only reached 67% of its target to build 2,650 homes over the three-year period. It means the council must continue to apply a “presumption in favour of sustainable development” when it decides planning applications and give more weight to schemes for new housing.

The figures were discussed during a meeting of the council’s regeneration and economic development scrutiny panel on Wednesday.

Vincent Lacovara, the council’s head of planning, told the meeting that the presumption in favour of sustainable development did not mean housing schemes must be approved, but that “significant additional weight” should be given to approving them.

In response to a question from Conservative panel member Lindsay Rawlings, he said office-to-flat conversions granted under so-called permitted development rights were included in the overall housing figures.

Sarah Cary, the council’s director of place, said the 2020/21 figures did not include many conversions but added that the scheme to turn Blackhorse Tower, in Cockfosters, into 216 flats could count towards the numbers in coming years. Developer Chase New Homes is converting the block into homes after winning an appeal against the council’s decision to refuse permission for the scheme.

Under questioning from Andy Milne, another Conservative panel member, Vincent denied the council saw the presumption as meaning “anything goes” in terms of planning applications. He said the authority was still able to use its adopted planning framework to refuse schemes.

However, he warned: “We are also measured on performance on not only speed of planning applications but how well we do at appeal. So if we lose too many things at appeal, there is a risk that we could have powers taken away from us […] and we are going a little bit in that direction, if we are not careful.”

Green Party councillor Charith Gunawardena asked whether the council would amend the draft Local Plan’s target to build 25,000 homes up to 2039 given a “significant reduction in population growth” for the capital under projections by the Greater London Authority and the Office for National Statistics.

Vincent explained that the draft Local Plan target was not just based on fluctuations in population growth but on a government methodology to calculate housing need and a range of evidence collected by the council. He added that the authority did not know how “sustained” the recent changes in population growth projections would be, but the next version of the Local Plan would include updated evidence.

Labour’s Mahmut Aksanoglu described the latest housing figure as “positive” and asked how the increase on the previous year was achieved. Officers said that a number of “significant schemes” had been completed during 2020/21, including a large care home.