Essex council demands swift government action to resolve standard method uncertainty

An Essex council has written to the government urging it to 'act swiftly and decisively' to provide 'clarity' on revisions to its standard method for calculating housing need, after the authority found that its five-year land supply position had 'dramatically jumped from 3.9 years to 5.83 years' in the wake of new household projection figures.

Braintree: council writes to minister over standard method uncertainty
Braintree: council writes to minister over standard method uncertainty

The government has said that it will revisit its standard housing need assessment methodology enshrined in July's revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in the light of Office for National Statistics (ONS) projections published last month showing a substantial drop in predicted household growth rates.

[he standard method uses the projections as a starting point for calculating each council’s objectively assessed need and then applies an "affordability adjustment" in high demand areas and a "cap" to limit changes.

Speaking at the Planning for Housing conference earlier this month, 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."

Now, Braintree District Council has written to housing minister Kit Malthouse for speedy action to resolve uncertainty prompted by the publication of the ONS data.

The letter, from cabinet member for planning and housing councillor Lynette Bowers-Flint, says that "after recalculating the housing supply (utilising the new standard methodology and household projections), the council finds itself in an unexpected position as our supply has dramatically jumped from 3.9 years to 5.83 years supply".

The letter highlights comments made by the housing minister in an interview with Planning that the standard method has generated some "crazy" figures.

"The housing minister has acknowledged this himself labelling the anomalies created by the new methodology and household projections as ‘crazy’", it says.

The letter says that, "rather than being pleased that the council can now demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, we are concerned that this will be short-lived and could dramatically change once again by Christmas".

"Whilst the government works out what to do, councils like Braintree are now left picking up the pieces and have to explain to residents why, as you stated at the Conservative Party conference, local authorities should not ‘take their foot off the accelerator’," the letter says.

Bowers-Flint calls on the government to "act swiftly and decisively to resolve this matter now or at the very least give councils a clearer indication of the timetable for when this will be resolved".

"It is simply not acceptable to say that a consultation is ‘expected’ before Christmas. On behalf of the residents of the Braintree District, I urge the government to urgently consult on the revised methodology so there is clarity and certainty on this critical issue before Christmas", the letter concludes.

Bowers-Flint goes on to write: "With the previous NPPF, it felt at times as though the goal posts were being moved by the government.

"With the publication of NPPF2 and the new methodology and household projections, it feels as though we are playing a completely different sport with a new set of rules."

Housing minister Kit Malthouse said: "Councils that meet our deadline to adopt a local plan do not have to use our standard method to calculate the number of homes needed over the next five years.     

"For those that use the method, we are going to consult on changes to the way the numbers are worked out so it is consistent with delivering 300,000 new homes per year by the mid-2020s". 

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