Proposed new standard method homes numbers ‘not set in stone’, says housing minister

Housing minister Christopher Pincher has stressed that local councils still have a key role in determining the overall numbers as well as the locations of new homes in their areas, in a defence of the government's proposed revisions to its standard method of assessing housing need.

Christopher Pincher, official portrait (CC BY 3.0)
Christopher Pincher, official portrait (CC BY 3.0)

The so-called standard method for calculating housing need, introduced by the Conservatives in 2018, “was designed to speed up the system and ensure the planning process focused on how and where homes can best be built”, Pincher wrote on the ConservativeHome website.

The government announced plans to revise the method in March, and published its proposed revisions for consultation last month.

However, the changes, which include removing a 40 per cent cap on any increases in local need levels, would see sharp rises in housing need figures in London and the home counties and have prompted criticism from some Tory MPs

Noting that these proposed changes have since “attracted some comment”, Pincher explained: “The standard method is only the first step in the current local plan process – the numbers generated for an area’s housing need will not necessarily be the same as their ultimate targets.

“That’s because councils will take into account various constraints in their areas, including protecting their green belt and environmentally significant sites. Nor does it dictate where those homes should go. Both are important aspects of the system which rest with local councillors to determine.”

He added: “Localism requires local decision-making – and our system puts councillors at the forefront of those decisions.”

And he said the wider and longer-term planning changes, set out in the government’s Planning for the Future white paper, “are an opportunity for us to embrace a planning system which puts councillors and communities in the driving seat of designing their neighbourhoods”.

The white paper also sets out further long-term changes to the standard method to make it a "binding" figure that would take account of land constraints such as green belt.

Among the voices of alarm at the proposed short-term reassessment of the standard method, Horsham District Council in West Sussex said its local housing need level would nearly double, which would be “virtually impossible” to meet.

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