Government to Oxfordshire – We are Punishing You for Slow Plan Making – So Go Away and Deliver 36,000 less houses

In a government statement on the 25th of March the Planning minister removed the special ‘3 year housing land supply’ concession to Oxfordshire.

In March 2017 the Government committed to the Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal (the deal), to support ambitious plans to deliver 100,000 homes by 2031. The deal committed to an Oxfordshire-wide Joint Statutory Spatial Plan to be adopted by 2021, and to be supported by £215 million of funding to help deliver more affordable housing and infrastructure improvements to support sustainable development across the county.

As part of the deal, to support this strategic approach to supporting housing delivery through joint working, Oxfordshire was granted flexibility from the National Planning Policy Framework policy on maintaining a five year housing land supply. Since 2018, Oxfordshire have had to provide proof of a three-year land supply for planning purposes. This has worked to support the delivery of the local plans for the area and ensure that the local authorities could focus their efforts on their Joint Spatial Strategy.

This flexibility way laid out by Secretary of State at the time the Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP in a Written Ministerial Statement on 12 September 2018 – in a new tab).

Since 2018, Oxfordshire have not finalised and adopted their Joint Statutory Spatial Plan. Therefore, in the best interests of housing delivery in the region, my Department have extended the time afforded to Oxfordshire for the delivery of this plan to 2023. This extension however will not be subject to the original land supply flexibilities. From today, Oxfordshire will need to maintain a five year housing land supply in accordance with the National Planning Policy Framework.

The growth deal simply commits to local plan levels of growth and includes no element of overspill from ‘land constrained’ areas such as London as per the NIC Arc report. It is based on a 2014 SHMA that included elements for past underprovision and a ‘jobs led’ assumption to reduce the jobs/housing imbalence in the area. Hence it was well in excess of the standard method. The latest standard method only works out at around 63,000 houses 2011-2031 according to Nat Lit . It actually suggests a slight fall for Cherwell as healthy completions at Banbury and Bicester Garden Town have pushed down completions.

The last sentence has been interpreted by Turleys as implying going forward the standard method replaces the growth deal.

Local planning authorities should identify and update annually a supply of specific deliverable sites sufficient to provide a minimum of five years’ worth of housing against their housing requirement set out in adopted strategic policies, or against their local housing need where the strategic policies are more than five years old

By the way there is an error in the NPPG which claculates it in a different and incompatible way.

The local plan’s in Oxfordshire are adopted or about to be so. However Cherwells is now more than 5 years old. So it immediately drops down from around 1,200 to around 700 dpa.

Turley were right to highlight this and it is clear the Ministry made a blundering error here. All the remaining local authorities in Oxfordshire have to do is run down the clock, let their local plans get more than 5 years out of date and reduce their housing requirements by 1/3rd. Sue Cooper and the other South Oxfordshire Avocado Nimbys must be rubbing their hands in glee.

This is an enormous own goal by the government. It complicates the South Oxfordshire JR. It complicates the Oxfordshito twice the re plan, with the Southern Oxfordshire Authorities saying we should we stick to twice the rate of the North.

It also illustrates how it is a nonsense to apply the standard method to growth areas, for three reasons.

Firstly as they aim to stop housing shortages restricting firms growth they have to be jobs led.

Secondly as you start to build at scale your affordability ratio goes down and you have to build less. So the injunction in NPPG that it takes account of backlogs no longer applies.

Finally when the 2018 HH projections cam out the government stated that the ARC would help take up the slack between the national total of the standard method and the 300,000/annum manifesto target. Is this no longer the case, are the 35% uplift authorities supposed to take up the slack now?

Finally the new census. The new national datasets of population created for covid purposes imply major under enumeration in Oxford and Cambridge. This will be no surprise to many authorities. I for example stayed in a hotel on census night and saw nothing of a census form. As few students will have been in either city on census night the 2020 census will be useless for standard method purposes. The ministry will have to shift I think to using the much more accurate NHS figures, indeed the ONS has a project to explore this after 2021, (known as the Danish methd) and for the ARC use those figures combined with an economic growth model projection to calculate an up to date ‘jobs led’ housing number. The standard method just wont cut it.