Housing Minister – New Standard Method Numbers Arn’t Set in Stone

Conservative Home

The problem – under the duty to cooperate there was a requirement to meet unmet need from other areas. Without it numbers will be pushed one way only – down – and incorrectly the Green Belt will be seen as an environment constraint not a policy constraint. It will result in a massive reduction in housing numbers. BTW its 337,000 not 300,000.

Christopher Pincher is Minister for Housing, and is MP for Tamworth.

Earlier this month, the government set out its ambition to introduce much needed reforms to bring our planning system into the twenty-first century.

Our aim: to get the country building better-designed, more environmentally-friendly homes and help people onto the housing ladder.

Alongside these longer-term reforms, we are consulting on shorter term interventions in the current system to align it with our housing goals: building 300,000 homes a year and tackling housing affordability.

One of these interventions, the methodology for calculating local housing need within the current system that we are consulting on, has attracted some comment. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the contentious nature of our present planning system and all prior changes to the methodology, but for those who are involved in crucial work of planning for our communities, I want to set out what we are consulting on and why.

In 2018, we introduced a standard, transparent method to determine how many houses were needed in an area. The previous system involved councils employing costly consultants to estimate their housing need – too often with the final numbers being heavily contested. There was uncertainty, there were long delays, and all the while the country was not planning for the homes that are so desperately needed.

This standard method was designed to speed up the system and ensure the planning process focused on how and where homes can best be built.

It has been over two years since that formula was introduced, so we committed earlier in 2020 to review it and consult on the balance between our three objectives:

First, to equip councils with the tools they need to plan for 300,000 homes a year. Everyone wants their children and grandchildren to have somewhere to live – so we have to plan for those homes. We need local communities to be honest about the scale of housing need for which we need to plan.

Second, and in line with our commitment to protecting the Green Belt and to prioritise brownfield development, we want development to be directed to existing urban areas and level up our towns and cities with imaginative urban renewal. This makes sense when you consider that 76 per cent of local housing need is in council areas classified by the Office for National Statistics as urban.

And third, to build homes where people want to live, where the demand for housing is clear, where prices are higher and, in many cases, affordability is getting worse.

We are keen to make sure we get this balance right.

So it is important to stress 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.

It was a Conservative government that got rid of top-down regional planning targets, and introduced a-locally led system, which takes account of local need and local constraints. Localism requires local decision-making – and our system puts councillors at the forefront of those decisions.

Our longer term planning reforms, set out in the Planning for the Future paper, are an opportunity for us to embrace a planning system which puts councillors and communities in the driving seat of designing their neighbourhoods and puts creating beautiful places that communities can be proud of at its heart.

Spectator – MP : ‘If you think A-levels were bad, wait until people get their heads round these reforms.’

James Forsyth The Spectator

The government always knew it would have to expend political capital to get its planning reforms through. Making it easier to build houses was never going to be popular with Tories in leafy areas. The benefit of an 80-seat majority was meant to be the ability to push through difficult but important changes. The problem is, as I say in the magazine this week, that the government has been expending political capital on rather a lot of other things recently.Tory MPs are in a fractious mood, irritated by the number of U-turns

Tory MPs are in a fractious mood, irritated by the number of U-turns, and opposition to planning reform is beginning to build up. One normally mild-mannered former cabinet minister tells me: ‘If you think A-levels were bad, wait until people get their heads round these reforms.’

The government will try and take some of the heat out of the issue by refining the algorithm to determine housing needs, which is currently causing particular irritation among Tory MPs – there is a worry it’ll lead to too much housebuilding in the Tory shires. But the government won’t deny the need to build in areas where affordability is worst.

The recent U-turns have sent out a message that this government responds to pressure. So quite a few Tory MPs will now seek to apply that pressure over planning. The government mustn’t buckle, though. It needs to demonstrate that it will use its majority to enact change. To back down now would send an awful message: that even its most important policies can be dropped. And then the accusations of incompetence might really start to stick.

Rethinking the Trafford Centre/Charrington Moss/Manchester Green Belt Changes In Light of Intu Collapse

The collapse of Intu has left a legacy of large car orientated shopping centres. These include the Trafford Centre sold some years ago by the Peel group. They must be relieved. In a carbon neutral world is there still a role for such dinosaurs? The site could probably be bought for a low value by a development corporation, and represents a real regenerationn opportunity.

The Manchester Metrolink has just been extended from Salford Quays to the Metrocentre. If such centres, like here, Lakeside and Metro Centre have a future it is as new mixed use city centers around car parks redeveloped as high density housing, taking advantage of their tram links and good infrastructure. Quite a few malls in America have been redeveloped in housing led schemes. There are some underused sites nearby and adjoining in Trafford Park which could be included in a masterplan. This also would require a dramatic upgrading of the metrolink service frequency.

The Trafford Centre is around 2 miles from Salford Quays with the Metrolink running along it – Village Way/Park Way. There are some spectacular poor uses of land along it like a giant palette storage site. The most obvious thing to do us to extend the growth corridor which runs from Manchester City Centre to Salford Queys to Trafford Park through rezoning sites along the metrolink for high density housing.

The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework/Plan proposes a number of deletions of Green Belt. In the North of the metropolis there is at least a plan – to provide the major new employment areas the area lacks unlike the south of the Metropolis where most of the growth has been. I woint argue with that. In the south it has been more scattergun. A few big problem sites, like Charrington Moss and a few heavily promoted sites by major landowners like Peel Estates which have proven highly controversial, some being wetlands/moss like much of the low lying land on the South Eastern edge of the city. To my mind much of this doesn’t make sense as a strategy. It is just making up the numbers not forming a coherent post carbon Manchester.

Charrington Moss was the main dumping ground for Manchester, especially ‘night soil’ by the 1930s it was reclaimed became a very underused industrial park and was eventually bought by Shell, who have now moved out. It is now a planning mess with a very odd Green Belt Boundary reflecting the mess. It is mainly a major developed site in the Green Belt. There has been proposals to develop 6-7,000 houses here plus employment. The risk is however that it would become just the kind of site criticized by Transport for New Homes; entirely car dependent feeding commuters onto the M60. There are too major opportunities however.

Charrington Moss used to have a tram link to Salford Quays. The alignment though has been lost to the spur to the M60. However the most direct connection to Trafford Park would be a new alignment alongside the Manchester Ship canal passing by a new rail station on the Cheshire Linew between Irlam and Flixton. The second opportunity is to create a tram on the former Cheshire line spur south of the site connecting to Timperley, Cheadle and Stockport – a long held local ambition.

With High Density Housing each of these schemes could have over 10,000 units, significantly reducing the Green Belt take in South Manchester.