Five things you need to know about MHCLG's new consultation on changes to the standard housing need method

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) has published a consultation on changes to its standard method of calculating housing need. Here are five key proposals you need to know.

Housing need: new consultation on changes to standard method published
Housing need: new consultation on changes to standard method published

1) Planners should ignore the latest household growth projections when assessing their housing need and instead use the figures published two years ago. The government’s proposed approach, the consultation document says, is, in the short term, to "specify that the 2014-based data will provide the demographic baseline for assessment of local housing need", rather than last month's 2016-based figures, which prompted significant drops in housing need when applied to the standard method. The method, introduced in July's revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), uses the household projections before applying an affordability uplift. It adds: "All other elements of the standard method of assessing housing need would, for now, remain unchanged." The MHCLG said it would review the formula more comprehensively in the long term, "by the time the next projections are issued". More details here.

2) The government wants to revisit the definition of "deliverable" sites for the purposes of local authorities proving that they have at least a five-year pipeline of sites against their housing requirement. The consultation document says that "early experience" of applying the revised definition, set out in paragraph 73 of this July’s revised NPPF, "has suggested that it would benefit from some clarification of the wording". "In particular," it adds, "the existing text could be clearer that sites that are not major development, and which have only an outline planning consent, are in principle considered to be deliverable." More details here.

3) The government intends to modify the NPPF to take account of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that has caused uncertainty over the rules around habitats regulation assessments (HRAs). In April, a landmark ECJ judgment prompted a major change to the way HRAs are carried out to assess potential harmful impacts of a proposed scheme on European Union-protected habitats. Previously, established practice had been that proposals to mitigate any negative impacts, such as creating alternative natural greenspace, can be considered at the initial screening stage rather than the more thorough "appropriate assessment" stage. According to the consultation document, the "effect of the ruling is that appropriate assessment of habitats impacts is required in plan-making and decision-making whenever there is a potential impact on a habitats site, regardless of any mitigation measures proposed". Paragraph 177 of July's revised NPPF states: "The presumption in favour of sustainable development does not apply where development requiring appropriate assessment because of its potential impact on a habitats site is being planned or determined." The ECJ ruling means, the MHCLG says, that sites with suitable mitigation are now excluded from application of the presumption, "which was not the intention of the policy". In response, it proposes making clear that the presumption is disapplied only where an appropriate assessment has concluded that there is no suitable mitigation strategy in place. More details here.

4) Planners should only be able to use the new standard housing need method when calculating a council's five year land supply for the purpose of appeals. The consultation document states that exceptions to using the standard method for assessing housing need should be only be allowed in plan-making rather than for decision-making, including determining applications and appeals. According to the document, paragraph 60 of July's revised NPPF together with a definition of "local housing need" in the framework's glossary "allow authorities to use a justified alternative approach to the standard method for calculating housing need, in exceptional circumstances". But the MHCLG says using an alternative approach to the standard method "is intended to apply only when strategic policies are being produced" in plan-making, "rather than inviting alternative approaches and calculations of need in the determination of applications and appeals where housing land supply is a relevant matter". More details here.

5) The government intends to publish a new version of the NPPF and update its Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) to acccommodate the proposed changes. The document states: "Subject to the outcome of this consultation, the government intends to publish updated planning guidance on housing need assessment, and a new version of the NPPF incorporating the policy clarifications that are proposed." It adds that the government will update the PPG, to "make clear" that lower housing need figures generated by the 2016-based projections "do not qualify as an exceptional circumstance that justifies a departure from the standard methodology". The consultation closes on Friday 7 December. 

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