Malthouse says the standard method has generated some 'crazy' figures, by Richard Garlick

The government has done a pretty comprehensive job of distancing itself from the new standard method for assessing housing need. Before the Office of National Statistics household projections came out last month, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) had already said that it would consider revising the standard method.

Following the publication of the projections, which according to various consultants would lead to a drop in future housing need in England of about 25 per cent, MHCLG has said that it definitely intends to propose changes.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Planning  that you can read in this edition, planning minister Kit Malthouse says the standard method has generated some ‘crazy’ figures. Yet, until the government has a revised approach in place, decisions in authorities that lack an up-to-date plan will be guided by local housing need figures calculated using the method.

This could go on for some time, given that the minister has set himself a deadline of 24 January for consultation on the revised method, which raises the possibility of a finalised version not arriving until much later.

Local plans submitted for examination from 24 January are also due to be applying the standard method to their housing need calculations. Unless the government pushes back that deadline, or introduces some further transitional arrangements, it seems very possible that some such plans will be asked to apply the existing version of the standard method. This despite the planning minister’s evident lack of faith in it.

At this week’s Planning for Housing conference, organised by Planning, MHCLG officials played down concerns. They suggested that, even if the rethink of the standard method technically gave authorities a window to try to bake into their plan a low assessment of housing need, they would be unwise to do so.

The government argues that its promised updating of the standard method - so that 300,000 homes a year are once again planned for - would mean that any such authority would very soon have to revise its plan. It also emphasises that the standard method was never intended to deliver a ‘final’ housing target.

This view is supported by some expert commentators, who point out that relatively few authorities will have an emerging plan ready to take advantage of any window of opportunity presented by the final days of the first version of the standard method.

But others point out that some councils might be tempted by the potential that a welltimed submission would have to fix a low housing number for two years. At least one council told us this week that government failure to finalise the revisions promptly could lead to it cutting housing numbers in its plan. The wider impact of the revisions is likely to be uncertainty among local authorities, and delay to local plan-making while it is resolved.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //

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