Set up to fail: why housing targets based on flawed numbers threaten our countryside, by countryside campaign group the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), says that housing targets "are often arbitrary and inflated".
It says that government guidance expects strategic housing market assessments (SHMAs), used to determine ‘objectively assessed need’ for housing, "to take account of projected job growth and to adjust for this accordingly."
However, it adds, "projections incorporate aspirations for growth, as well as past levels of economic activity, and therefore raise the question of just how ‘objective’ the assessment is."
It says that councils are "held responsible for meeting these targets despite, for the most part, not building homes themselves. When the targets are missed, the end result can often be a loosening of local planning control which leads to precious countryside being unnecessarily lost to development while brownfield land is left untouched."
The report includes a series of case studies, including that of the Oxfordshire SHMA, which suggested the need for an extra 100,000 houses in the county by 2031.
"This is the equivalent to two new cities the size of Oxford in just 17 years. This could lead to roughly 200,000 more people – a 30 per cent increase in the population – much higher than the 10 per cent anticipated UK population growth for the same period", the report said.
Among its recommendations, the report says that planning guidance on SHMAs "must provide a clear distinction between ‘need’ and ‘demand’ and give primacy to meeting genuine housing need."
It also says that national planning guidance should be amended to include the following definition of housing need: "The number of households who lack their own housing or live in unsuitable housing and who cannot afford to meet their housing needs in the market."
Matt Thomson, head of planning at CPRE, said: "Through its planning inspectors and the threat of expensive appeals, the government is taking a top-down approach to impose and enforce housing targets - despite ministers calling for more localism.
"Instead, we need to see a more accurate definition of community need at the heart of all local plans, and more consideration for environmental concerns and land availability. Councils should not be penalised for failing to meet implausible ambitions for growth over and above actual housing need."