Planning and housing minister Brandon Lewis has written to the chief executive of the Planning Inspectorate, Simon Ridley, to clarify the government’s position on strategic housing market assessments (SHMAs).
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that councils should carry out SHMAs, with neighbouring authorities where needed, to calculate the objectively assessed housing need in their housing market area.
In the letter, Lewis writes that a SHMA, as laid out in recent Planning Practice Guidance, "is just the first stage in developing a local plan" and councils should take time to take into account local constraints, such as green belt, that may restrict development.
The publication of a SHMA, Lewis writes, "provides important new evidence and where appropriate will prompt councils to consider revising their housing requirements in their local plans".
But he goes on to say: "However, the outcome of a [SHMA] is untested and should not automatically be seen as a proxy for a final housing requirement in local plans.
"It does not immediately or in itself invalidate housing numbers in existing local plans."
Councils must consider SHMA evidence carefully, Lewis adds, and "take adequate time to consider whether there are environmental and policy constraints, such as green belt, which will impact on their overall final housing requirement".
They must also "consider whether there are opportunities to co-operate with neighbouring planning authorities to meet needs across housing market areas", Lewis says.
Only after these considerations, would the final housing target in a draft local plan be "tested at examination by an inspector", the letter states.
A PINS spokesman said that the letter "helpfully reiterates government policy which inspectors will continue to apply in this important area of planning, as it is clearly set out in the NPPF and published planning guidance".
The letter can be found here.