Blog: 18 December 2020All I want for Christmas is a strategic approach to housing need

Dan Usher

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Dan Usher

Development Economics Associate

Ebbsfleet office

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Barely four months ago Government consulted on their proposed ‘Changes to the current planning system’. Part of this consultation was to revise the Standard Method for calculating minimum housing need for all local authorities across the country. The proposals set out a new methodology which resulted in need of approximately 337,000 homes per annum nationally, thereby suggesting that Government’s long-held ambition to deliver 300,000 homes per annum would be realised. However, following the conclusion of the consultation in October, Government yesterday published further revisions to what some commentators described as the ‘mutant algorithm’ published in August. The result is a return to the methodology first consulted on in September 2017 for most. The only change has been to apply a further 35% uplift to the figure generated by the Standard Method to those urban local authorities in the top 20 cities and urban centres list published by ONS. National need generated by these changes leads to approximately 297,000 homes per annum nationally.

However, the figures published by Government yesterday are of concern. The level of planned growth is based on 2014-based households projections and has removed any consideration of housing stock, something which the August proposals included. They represent a regressive step and unfortunately the position does not match the rhetoric about delivering 300,000 homes annually, providing the family homes we need or ‘levelling up’ in the North. In fact, the figures published yesterday for the Midlands and Northern regions are lower than recent levels of delivery. The promise of ‘rebalancing’ growth from London and the South East to the Midlands and the North appears to have been broken.

This is not about a mathematical formula though. Arbitrary methods or algorithms do not ensure housing delivery. The real issue is that everyone has a right to a decent home – this is core to our society – and the government needs to put in place a spatial planning strategy to deliver the homes we need, where we need and want them, when and in a form that meet needs and contributes to wider ambitions for our communities. Not only will this guarantee a coherent and balanced plan to deliver homes, but it will also support the wider objective of creating places where we want to live, be proud of and support existing communities and develop new.

London is a case in point. The target for new housing is now 93,000 homes per annum. Since the start of this century, average delivery has just managed to limp over 30,000 homes per annum. What will happen to the 60,000 plus homes a year that are not delivered? The same is true in Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool. Unless we take a strategic approach that moves beyond the numbers, the 'targets' will remain just that and the debate as to how to calculate need and requirement will remain in the abstract, to the detriment of those in need of new homes.

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Levelling Up, Standard Method, Planning Reform #LetsFindAWay Build Back Better