Planning for Housing: Plans group chair calls for 'mature debate' on green belt

London and the South East will get nowhere near meeting their housing needs unless there is a 'more mature' debate on the green belt, the chairman of the government's Local Plans Expert Group (LPEG) told the Planning for Housing Conference today.

John Rhodes speaking at the conference earlier today
John Rhodes speaking at the conference earlier today

"It would be great if politicians didn’t talk about green belt, because it then becomes a slogan. It shouldn’t be a political issue," said consultant John Rhodes, answering questions following a presentation on housing need assessment and local plan-making.

Rhodes, a director at the Quod consultancy, pointed out that only 0.5 per cent of England’s green belt was lost though the local plan review process in 2016/17. "Green belt should not be a reason for not meeting our housing needs. Local authorities can and do adjust their boundaries. It makes sense to add new green belt on its outer edges," he said.

Commenting on last month’s Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) consultation on a standard methodology for assessing housing need, Rhodes said that the proposal for neighbouring councils to draw up statements of common ground on housing requirements "won’t help significantly".

"The government is saying this isn’t meant to be an added burden on local authorities - but it should be. There should be a duty for councils to agree. It needs real teeth to make it work," he said. "The policy needs to recognise that there is no point in having a duty to cooperate that allows local authorities not to meet their housing needs."

Rhodes warned that there could be "perverse outcomes" from the consultation’s proposals to cap any potential increases in assessed housing need for individual authorities under the DCLG’s proposals. "It would be better to use another stick to get local plans progressed," he said.

Stephen Hinsley, a senior director at consultants Tetlow King Planning, voiced doubts about the DCLG consultation proposal for local planning authorities to set housing need figures for neighbourhood plan areas, based on each neighbourhood’s proportion of the district population.

"What happens where it is shown through a neighbourhood plan that the share of the need can’t be met? Where will it go?" he asked.

"It can’t be the intention for one neighbourhood to take on the housing needs of another."

Hinsley said it was unclear from the consultation whether the proposed methodology will produce disaggregated figures for different types of accommodation.

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