A Zero Algorithm Approach to Setting Housing Need

The government has got itself into a pickle in the new housing needs formula. It barely got itself out of a hole on the ‘OANishambles’ of the last household projections – with these going down. It recognised that the old formula repressed growth of fast growing northern cities but didn’t bother to check the results – the new formula weighed so little the housing stock component it made matters worse not better.

It was inevitable that the ‘cap’ on housing would have to go, but as soon as it did it implied massive growth in many areas to make the figures match the 300,000 plus national target.

Originally it was an objective assessment of need only. Not a plan target. It stated where need came from, plans and strategic plans should reallocate that need based on market conditions, growth infrastructure and constraints. But without strategic plans there was no system for reallocation. Especially from tightly bounded land constrained areas such as London. This raised the prospect of major growth in highly constrained rural areas that would never be candidate growth areas. It was unnecessarily asking for trouble.

The White Paper also implied that from being a starting point it would evolve to take account of constraints to being a defacto centrally directed plan – but without any strategy or vision to move housing around the national map.

The housing minister in reassuring back benchers that in the ‘short term’ this was just the ‘starting point’ implied ‘in the long term we will clobber you’ hardly an effective strategy.

To be fair need has to be unchallengeable. It needs to go back to being an objective measure of need (I termed OAN). Lets keep it simple and unchallengeable. Lets take the ONS 2019 based population projections for 2043 and reallocate it based on 237,000 per annum/per annum population to 2043 per LPA, and simply sum it up. The assumption being one person is one unit of housing need and everyone is treated the same.

Each LPA would then have a legal duty to ensure that need is met, either through there own plan or through taking part in joint planning arrangements with other authortities.

Most new plan will be for large areas – i.e. Buckinghamshire, West Kent East Kent – mirroring reorganized LPAs. There will however be large growth areas that cross than such as the ARC, as well as the age old problem of allocating overspill growth from London, Birmingham, Bristol, even Slough.

Here I have a simple suggestion. Put the decisions to grand committees of MPs sitting on a regional basis, such as for ROSE and the Arc. This would force MPs to act responsibly and take ownership of issues rather than most seeing stopping growth as their local campaign whilst proposing growth goes elsewhere undefined.

Preparation of regional advice on growth locations could be done through regional informal groupings, led by LEPS, Combined authorities and local authorities, as now. But the decision would be made by MPs upon recommendations by the SoS and his or her advisors (EiP panels). The SoS could also sweeten the pill for growth areas through a standard formula based on the redistributed housing numbers.

What we have learned from countries that build more is the need for central, regional and local governments to work in partnership. These proposals would set out clear roles for each level of government. To get plans through on strict statutory timescale the planning and involvement of MPs would have to be years in advance. No more washing of hands after the EiPs have concluded and crying to the SoS for special treatment.

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