The new draft methodology to be used by English local planning authorities for determining their level of housing need is deceptively simple. Is it indeed too simple?
The current system (difficulty level: advanced)
The NPPF currently advises that LPAs should “use their evidence base to ensure that their Local Plan meets the full, objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area”. They should:
“prepare a Strategic Housing Market Assessment to assess their full housing needs, working with neighbouring authorities where housing market areas cross administrative boundaries. The Strategic Housing Market Assessment should identify the scale and mix of housing and the range of tenures that the local population is likely to need over the plan period which:
* meets household and population projections, taking account of migration and demographic change;
* addresses the need for all types of housing, including affordable housing and the needs of different groups in the community (such as, but not limited to, families with children, older people, people with disabilities, service families and people wishing to build their own homes); and
* caters for housing demand and the scale of housing supply necessary to meet this demand”
The PPG provides more detailed guidance but in practice the recommended approach is complex, relying on a shifting, uncertain evidence-base with subjective judgements to be made. Disputes over the calculation of “objectively assessed needs” are far too time-consuming, technocratic, uncertain and expensive.
Local Plans Expert Group’s recommendations (difficulty level: intermediate)
Back in September 2015, the then Secretary of State, Greg Clark, and then housing and planning minister, Brandon Lewis (I know, seems like another era), appointed an independent Local Plans Expert Group “with a remit to consider how local plan making can be made more efficient and effective“. Its impressive line-up was as follows:
John Rhodes OBE – Quod, Director – Chair
Adrian Penfold OBE – British Land, Head of Planning
Councillor Toby Elliott – Swindon Borough Council, Cabinet Member
Derek Stebbing – Chelmsford City Council, Planning Policy Manager
John Howell OBE MP FSA – Member of Parliament for Henley
Keith Holland – retired Planning Inspector
Liz Peace CBE
Richard Harwood OBE QC – 39 Essex Chambers
Christopher Katkowski QC – Landmark Chambers
Ian Manktelow – Wycombe District Council, Team Leader, Planning Policy
Matthew Spry – Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners – Senior Director
LPEG’s report was published on 16 March 2016, together with a separate volume of appendices, within which Appendix 6 sets out a simplified, standardised approach to the assessment of housing need. The methodology is summarised in this table:
It was a detailed, thoughtful piece of work, delivered quickly. The Government then took almost as long again to publish what can best be described as a holding response on 7 February 2017, alongside publication of the housing white paper:
“The White Paper confirms that the Government will consult on options for introducing a more standardised approach to assessing housing requirements. The outcome of this consultation will be reflected in changes to the National Planning Policy Framework. We want councils to use the standardised approach and will incentivise them to do so, as this will help to speed up and reduce the cost of the plan making process for those authorities that use it. The White Paper indicates that our decision making for the £2.3bn Housing Infrastructure Fund is likely to factor in whether authorities intend to apply the new standardised approach to assessing housing requirements.
We expect councils that decide not to use the methodology to explain why not and to justify the methodology that they have adopted. We will consult on what constitutes a reasonable justification for deviating from the standard methodology, and make this explicit in the National Planning Policy Framework.”
The Government’s proposals (difficulty level: elementary)
It is interesting that politicians (again) select a group of recognised experts and then embark on a significantly different approach. Perhaps the group wasn’t brave enough in its quest for a one size fits all formula or perhaps it recognised that, if it did, the figures would not be fit for purpose.
However, a year after the publication of LPEG’s report, the Government has published, for consultation, its proposals: Planning for the right homes in the right places: consultation proposals (14 September 2017). The consultation period expires on 9 November 2017.
“Subject to the outcome of this consultation, and the responses received to the housing White Paper, the Government intends to publish a draft revised National Planning Policy Framework early in 2018. We intend to allow a short period of time for further consultation on the text of the Framework to make sure the wording is clear, consistent and well-understood. Our ambition is to publish a revised, updated Framework in Spring 2018.” Planning Practice Guidance will be updated at the same time.
LPEG’s recommended approach has been further simplified, reduced indeed to a formulaic approach which will have to be followed by LPAs save in “compelling circumstances” which “will need to be properly justified, and will be subject to examination.” Amongst the elements that appear to have been stripped back from the LPEG recommendations are
– Just using ONS’ projected numbers of households as the demographic baseline for each area
– No ten year migration scenario sensitivity test
– No looking at vacancy and second home rates
– No separate consideration, as part of this methodology, of the need for affordable housing although LPAs should identify the housing need for individual groups, such as those in need of affordable housing, via a streamlined process (the Government invites suggestions as to how that might work). We also wait to see what will be in the forthcoming “green paper on social housing” announced by Sajid Javid in his speech to the National Housing Federation on 19 September 2017)
“We propose to cap the level of any increase according to the current status of the local plan in each authority as follows:
a) for those authorities that have adopted their local plan in the last five years, we propose that their new annual local housing need figure should be capped at 40 per cent above the annual requirement figure currently set out in their local plan; or
b) for those authorities that do not have an up-to-date local plan (i.e. adopted over five years ago), we propose that the new annual local housing need figure should be capped at 40 per cent above whichever is higher of the projected household growth for their area over the plan period (using Office for National Statistics’ household projections), or the annual housing requirement figure currently set out in their local plan.”
DCLG has applied the new methodology to every authority in England, arriving at an overall housing need figure of 266,000 a year (including 72,000 in London) broken down authority by authority on a spreadsheet (which may not open on mobile devices). The table warns that the numbers are “indicative” and “should be treated with caution” (indeed various errors have already been found) but inevitably they have been pored over by those on all sides, whether to make the case for or against additional housing in a particular area.
There are some curious outcomes due to the way that, for example, anticipated or planned employment growth that will lead to additional housing pressure has not been factored in, save indirectly to the extent that it may have an effect on housing affordability. The affordability ratio further skews the increases towards the south with many authorities in the north and the Midlands showing decreases as a result of these factors, regardless of their actual level of ambition. The paper stresses that LPAs can plan for more homes than the number arrived at by the methodology but to what extent will the existence of the lower number encourage objectors to push back?
The transitional provisions will certainly encourage many LPAs to make sure that their plans have been submitted for examination by 31 March 2018:
This is the briefest of overviews. The paper includes further proposals to which no doubt I’ll be coming returning. In the meantime, for a full analysis of the new approach and its likely implications, I recommend Lichfields’ paper, written by LPEG adviser Matthew Spry.
Simon Ricketts, 20.9.17
Personal views, et cetera