Policy Briefing: What neighbourhood housing need change means for you

The requirement to provide neighbourhood housing need figures could further stretch under-pressure planners, warns Sean Lewis.

New homes: housing requirement figure for parish plan areas proposed
New homes: housing requirement figure for parish plan areas proposed

Q How would the neighbourhood planning proposals in last month’s housing need consultation work?

A The government seeks to amend national policy so that local authorities are required to provide neighbourhood planning groups with a housing requirement figure for their area, to be used as a starting point in calculating housing need. For authorities with an up-to-date local plan, the consultation document indicates that a neighbourhood planning area’s housing need is to be derived by the council using what it calls "reasoned judgement" based on the local plan’s settlement strategy and housing allocations.

For councils without an up-to-date local plan, the government is proposing a formula-based approach. This would take the population of the neighbourhood planning area and calculate its proportion of the local authority’s total population. The housing need figure would then be that percentage of the authority’s housing need, based on the government’s new proposed standard methodology formula.

Q What is the government’s rationale behind these changes?

A It wants to ensure transparency and consistency in housing need calculations across the country. A housing need figure confirmed at the start of the process allows for the level of development required to be addressed from the beginning of plan production. It is also likely the government’s motivation is to increase the amount of housing delivery in neighbourhood plans.

Q What impact could these changes have on housing need levels in neighbourhood plan areas?

A It is not clear what overall impact the changes could have on housing need levels in neighbourhood plan areas, as the effect heavily depends on the specific location and the adopted or emerging spatial strategy of the local authority. The consultation emphasises that the housing need figure provided is a "starting point" and neighbourhood planning bodies would still be able to "determine whether there are any constraints" preventing them from meeting it.

Q What implications could the proposals present for local authority planning teams?

A They place greater responsibility on local planning authorities to formulate a housing need figure for neighbourhood plan areas. However, they could mean that under-resourced councils will be stretched even further as they attempt to formulate figures. Figures generated for neighbourhoods by councils with an up-to-date local plan will need to be carefully formulated. This is because, although the consultation document says the government "would not expect" any housing figure derived from the local plan strategy "to be tested during the neighbourhood plan’s production", it could still be subject to a legal challenge.

Q Do the changes present any new potential risks or opportunities for landowners or developers?

A A fixed housing need figure from the beginning should provide landowners and developers with a degree of clarity and certainty. It may mean they have to engage earlier in the process with neighbourhood planning groups to promote sustainable sites. Consequently, developers may pursue allocations in a neighbourhood plan with a greater expectation of success. However, given the likelihood of local communities continuing to resist development, such expectations may be misplaced.

Q What impact can neighbourhood planning groups expect?

A On the one hand, it is likely that community groups will support the increased importance given by the government’s housing need consultation to neighbourhood plans in determining the scale and location of housing development. On the other hand, being provided with an established housing need figure by their local authority does reduce the autonomy of neighbourhood planning groups, and they may dispute those figures if they feel they are too high.

However, being aware of the full housing need requirement in their areas from the start should make the process for these groups more transparent and consistent. It might also mean that they would not have to employ planning consultants to calculate the required level of need for their areas.

Sean Lewis is a senior planner at Tetlow King Planning

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