Significant U-Turn on the Standard Method as the government publishes its response to the consultation on its housing need proposals

Yesterday the government published its response to the consultation on the proposed changes to the calculation of local housing need set out in the ‘Changes to the current planning system’ document published on 6 August 2020. To say that the outcome of the consultation constitutes a u-turn on planning policy would be an understatement.

It has been difficult to avoid the expression ‘mutant’ algorithm in the press surrounding the proposed amendments to the Standard Method. It had been foretold that the algorithm would result in what the media had decried as a paving over of green spaces that had formerly been protected from development.

Analysis of the figures produced under the proposed revised formula published in August showed that it would significantly increase local housing need in rural areas of the south east and London whilst also generating lower numbers in urban areas in the midlands and the north. Genuine concerns were raised by those involved in the development industry in the north that, given this disparity in housing number distribution, the proposals did not accord with the government’s proposed levelling-up agenda.

The revised approach published yesterday drops the proposed changes and retains the Standard Method in its current form excepting London and 19 of the most populated cities and urban centres in England. A 35% uplift is to be applied to those areas, representing a major shift in national policy in response to objections from those in the rural south east.  It is interesting to note that that the housing figure for London remains largely unchanged. For those outside the ‘Big 20’ the status quo remains the same and issues with delivery of housing in the north and midlands look set to continue.  Ringfencing of the Big 20 in this manner leaves many cities, towns and urban areas who haven’t ‘made the cut’ subject to a Standard Method which is not fit for purpose – so much for levelling-up.

Elsewhere in its response the government states that it is hoped that adding an uplift to existing urban areas will result in local authorities making a ‘clear shift’ to focus on development brownfield land that is supported by funding announcements made earlier this year in the order £67million to the West Midlands and Greater Manchester Combined Authorities to support brownfield development, as well as an additional £100 million Brownfield Land Release fund to be distributed across England. Three stated reasons for this focus on urban areas are given as the following:

  • Ensuring new homes can maximise use of existing infrastructure;
  • Providing more opportunities due to the profound structural change currently ongoing in the retail and commercial sectors; and
  • Meeting climate aspirations which require that a spatial pattern of development reduces the need for high carbon travel.
In reality it is difficult to see how urban areas will meet these uplifted figures without requiring significant Green Belt release. Those wishing to develop sites outside of the Big 20 will be left toiling under the existing system. It will certainly be interesting to see what steps will now be taken by local authorities outside of the Big 20 who had held up Local Plan assessments in light of the reforms announced elsewhere in the White Paper - watch this space.


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