Government: Review calculation methods or risk deepening the housing crisis

The housing crisis is a national concern and one that the government has turned its attention to solving.

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It recognises that the shortage in supply is having a considerable impact on social mobility and the future prosperity of an entire generation.

However, in its efforts to come up with a national plan to solve it, it could be exacerbating the issue in certain regions.

Finding a solution is vital to creating an economy that works for everyone, something that the government acknowledges in its overarching objectives, with a recognition that a sustained increase in the number of new homes built is required.

However, the current planning guidance employed by government can hamstring housing delivery, and this must be addressed.

A flawed method

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) sets out the government’s planning policies for England and how these are expected to be applied.

However, changes to the NPPF’s standard method of assessing housing need (OAN) made earlier this year have created conditions in which a ‘do minimum’ approach to housing is deemed to be acceptable.

This is despite the inherent contradictions with the wider policy agenda to deliver more homes and spread prosperity to all areas of England, as well as rebalancing the economy through initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse.

The reduced supply of new developments is having a massive impact in the North of England, which can be seen in the recommended removal of 32 Green Belt housing sites from the Leeds development plan.

In 2014, Leeds City Council adopted a Core Strategy with a housing requirement of 66,000 new homes based on an NPPF tested objective assessment of housing need.

In 2018, following the changes to the NPPF, the council continued with the Site Allocations examination on a Revised Submission Draft Site Allocations Plan to reduce the required housing figure to 46,352, a reduction of 20,000 new homes.

Not only did this not meet the full Core Strategy requirement, it sought to spread the lower requirement over a longer plan period to 2033, delaying the supply of vital housing for the region.

A reduction in planned housing delivery can also be seen in the most recent draft of the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework.

This set out the intention for Greater Manchester to provide the minimum level of housing growth outlined in the NPFF, despite the city’s strong relative economic performance and its ambition to be a global city.

Unfortunately, these cases are not isolated incidents, with similar situations occurring in Warrington, County Durham and the Liverpool City Region.

If the delivery of housing in the north stagnates it could cause the north-south divide to grow.

A reduction in projected housing requirements has also led to a reluctance to utilise greenfield sites which in general terms are able to deliver the full breadth of homes needed in greater numbers.

While city centre markets provide significant net increases in the numbers of homes provided, they rarely contribute to the supply of affordable homes.

This signals a failure of authorities to deliver the affordable homes that their own evidence shows is urgently needed, which leads to an increased pressure on housing in the highest demand and shortest supply.

What needs to happen?

Northern cities must be supported by legislation if they are to fulfil the expectations the government has placed upon them to meet national economic and housing delivery objectives.

In its current form, the standard method provides no incentive for local authorities to plan ambitiously.

A reworked NPPF policy that takes account not only of market signal indicators, but also reflects the existing scale and quality of housing, is necessary to enable the North to realise its economic ambitions and fulfil national housing delivery targets.

In the meantime, it is the responsibility of those involved in the creation of local housing to scrutinise the outcomes of the standard method through the process of plan-making, with a view to delivering the homes that are needed to support the North’s economic future.

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