There was a time when national policy required housing and employment strategies in local plans to be integrated. Not any more.
Although the NPPF requires a ‘boost’ to housing and strategic targets are set as a minimum there is no requirement to consider any more than that set out in the standard method, in which employment plays no role any more according to the latest guidance.
It seems no longer to be an option to set a minimum significantly larger than a normal buffer because of the text ‘unless exceptional circumstances justify an alternative approach which also reflects current and future demographic trends and market signals.’ from para. 60.
Frequently local plans used ‘jobs led’ as opposed to ‘housing led’ approaches in SHMAS. LEPS frequently produce economic/industrial strategies that propose large scale economic growth – notably the West Midlands. Housebuilders frequently state that not enough housing is proposed because the employment growth is not matched by housing growth.
Although it is a vain prospectus to try and match housing and employment growth with any degree of precision in the long run they must run in broad tandem. Housing growth areas like new towns always saw employment growth lag and them rely for many years on commuting as service sector growth required large populations. People move in the first place to areas because of job opportunities or to retire. If employment and housing get out of sync you are embedding longer distance commuting – likely car based and high carbon. This is particularly the case with the arc, where the definition of the problem is the massive jobs and housing imbalance in Cambridge and Oxford. The TTWA for Cambridge has massively increased in a decade – now absorbing the Harlow TTWA. If you only meet the standard method you will be forever have to run to catch up with affordability as there wont be enough houses to match the new jobs. The housing and economic growth from new jobs and new housing will add to the spending power of those in the housing market, but at a greater rate than the rate of change of supply – hence housing affordability will still go down and commuting distances, and carbon outputs from non decarbonised transport will be higher than they would have been in a jobs led strategy.
Therefore if the Government is serious about the Arc they should not just consult on a purely standard method + land constrained areas overspill target for the area – as per the NIC report, but an alternative high growth ‘jobs led’ scenario where economic growth in the arc was not constrained. Indeed internally I can reveal the department developed their own bespoke method for the Arc which has never been published.
Something has gone wrong somewhere in the governments strategic planning thinking. Strategic planning is no longer a dirty word, but it is not true strategic planning if the amount of housing is fixed without without any thought or coordination with the strategic planning of employment.