The government has previously said that it will revisit the standard housing need assessment methodology enshrined in July's revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in the light of Office for National Statistics projections published last month showing a substantial drop in predicted household growth rates.
In a question and answer session this morning at the Planning for Housing conference, organised by Planning, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) chief planner Steve Quartermain said: "We have a commitment to consult on revision of the calculations on local housing need. The secretary of state has been clear that something will be seen on that before Christmas."
Quartermain said his officials are "looking at various options" and the department will "consult as soon as we can" on revisions to the methodology.
The chief planner's comments on the timing of the standard method consultation reiterate those by housing minister Kit Malthouse in a recent interview with Planning. In the interview, he said that the ministry aims to consult on a revised standard method before Christmas, and "certainly before January 24".
Quartermain made clear that the revised method would still aim to meet the overall target of delivering 300,000 homes per annum by the mid 2020s laid down in the NPPF. "The policy direction is clearly to maintain a higher figure than the current projections suggest and the methology will be trying to do that," he said.
He refused to be drawn on when the government would announce the results of the consultation. "We have to consider what we hear. Some local authorities out there will be looking at the implications for current local plans. In order for us to give certainty to the planning priofession we need to do this as quickly as possible," he said.
Quartermain's comments follow a call from Malthouse at last week's Conservative Party annual conference for local authorities not to "take their foot off the accelerator" on housing delivery.
Quartermain told the Planning for Housing audience that, "broadly speaking", the revised NPPF has "landed well". He said the MHCLG has a programme for continuing to review associated planning guidance, indicating that some new material would emerge later this year with more to come by next spring.
He also indicated that his department will make a decision "soon" on whether to formally intervene in the local plan-making process in three councils deemed to be performing poorly in the preparation of updated planning strategies for their areas.
The government's policy direction on housing delivery "has worked overall", Quartermain told the conference. "The challenge has been that local authorities have been on the back foot, when the parties planning for housing need should be on the front foot. We need to get them there, rather than having this combative attitude to large-scale development."
During the session, the chief planner also recognised concerns about capacity in local authority planning departments "to allow them to do what they should be doing". "From a government point of view, the issue about resources is something we are acutely aware of."
Later in the morning, David Roberts, planning policy lead on housing need at the MHCLG, stressed that the new standard methodology is intended to give an assessment of minimum needs arising in an area.
He said: "It's not a plan requirement. It doesn't take into account constraints like food zones, green belt or nationally designated habitats or the possibility that development may be more appropriate just across the local authority boundary. So it's not a housing target."