As a general principle, if you don’t know where you’re starting from you’ll have trouble knowing how to get to where you want to go. So it is with the housing market.
The government has repeatedly told us that we need 266,000 new homes in England each year, but the annual new build statistics have shown successive and significant shortfalls against this target. A major reason for this is that when allocating housing sites in their local plans, local planning authorities provided for significantly fewer houses than are necessary to satisfy their component of the national need. They have often justified this by using their own particular assessment methodology for the housing need for their own area.
To this end, it is hoped that Sajid Javid’s announcement on setting a three-step standardised methodology for assessing housing need will improve the delivery of the right housing in the right places by applying a consistent approach across the country.
Neighbouring authorities will be encouraged to pick up the slack through a statement of common ground, demonstrating how the authorities have co-operated
Javid’s standardised method is currently out for consultation, with its foundation being the ONS household projection numbers. This baseline is adjusted to take into account market signals, thereby preventing historic delivery trends and the lack of affordable homes from becoming embedded in the planning system.
This step is more complicated than the first and will no doubt become a focus for debate. The final step is applying a cap where the new method significantly increases the authorities’ previous housing need figures, thereby reducing the impact on areas with the most significant housing demands and lowest delivery levels.
When setting their housing requirements in their plans, local planning authorities will need to apply this new procedure and allocate sufficient sites across their administrative areas to deliver their targets. Allocated sites are much more likely to secure planning permission, thereby reducing developers’ planning risk and increasing the overall prospects of delivering those new homes.
With delivery of housing front and centre of his brief, Javid no doubt regrets abandoning the regional spatial strategies in the name of localism
In spite of these fairly encouraging movements, the notion of more predictable outcomes is somewhat undone by Javid’s statement that ‘it should not be mistaken for a hard and fast target’. Constraints on space mean that the local housing numbers calculated by this method will not be met in some areas. As a result, neighbouring authorities will be encouraged to pick up the slack through a statement of common ground, demonstrating how the authorities have co-operated.
Some planning authorities may welcome the new method. Others may fear that their historically protected green spaces will be under threat and with them the votes on which local members were elected. Equally, the requirement to agree a statement of common ground will no doubt be received with various levels of enthusiasm.
With delivery of housing front and centre of his brief, Javid no doubt regrets abandoning the regional spatial strategies in the name of localism. Along with these spatial strategies went the government’s ability to set housing numbers in a national context and implement them within local planning authorities.
Looking at the bigger picture however, it is likely that the standardised method will be welcomed as it is preferable to the current free-for-all. Subject to the inevitable tweaks of future politicians, it will soon become accepted within planning authorities. After this initial period its merits and drawbacks will be truly judged.