Don’t Plan for Economic Growth and a Jobs Led Plan – the Standard Method Wont let you Level Up

There was a time when national policy was clear that housing targets were minimums. However one problem with the way the standard method (a good idea badly done) works is that you no longer can plan for larger than demographic growth. According to the local plan you have to stick to the ‘standard method’ unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The baseline of course for the standard method is demographics, which is a backwards based projection, not a forward looking projection. So it bakes in trends, if you haven’t built many houses in the past few will form in the future , if you had economic decline in the past few will have moved there and the population will grown less.

The essence of planning though is to shape trends, in particular where there is economic opportunity for future job growth to plan additional housing, or otherwise you just plan for extended commuting. English planning is replete with examples, particular Oxford and Cambridge, has resulted in massive extensions to travel to wok areas. Hence some areas have been planning for ‘jobs led’ strategy, with additional uplifts to housing numbers as a result. Examples include Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire in their last local plan rounds. Another is Doncaster, where the uplift is around 50%, another is Darlington.

Darlington of course is the poster child of levelling up and the breaching of the red wall with the location of a treasury outpost. With good road and rail connections it has plans for strong economic growth.

Darlington has huge problems of under enumeration and dodgy population and household projections. For years the ONS suggested its mid year population estimates were stagnant only to find in the 2011 census they weren’t. Yet this didn’t result in better estimates. Also school roll and GP lists suggested far higher population. Its SHMA suggested a figure of 368 dwellings per annum in line with historic rates. Also they added figures for employment growth so the final figure was 422 per annum. The submitted plan though should have explained the components and reasons for variance from the standard method.

NPPG explains some of the circumstances you can go above the standard method.

When might it be appropriate to plan for a higher housing need figure than the standard method indicates?

The government is committed to ensuring that more homes are built and supports ambitious authorities who want to plan for growth. The standard method for assessing local housing need provides a minimum starting point in determining the number of homes needed in an area. It does not attempt to predict the impact that future government policies, changing economic circumstances or other factors might have on demographic behaviour. Therefore, there will be circumstances where it is appropriate to consider whether actual housing need is higher than the standard method indicates.

This will need to be assessed prior to, and separate from, considering how much of the overall need can be accommodated (and then translated into a housing requirement figure for the strategic policies in the plan). Circumstances where this may be appropriate include, but are not limited to situations where increases in housing need are likely to exceed past trends because of:

  • growth strategies for the area that are likely to be deliverable, for example where funding is in place to promote and facilitate additional growth (e.g. Housing Deals);
  • strategic infrastructure improvements that are likely to drive an increase in the homes needed locally; or
  • an authority agreeing to take on unmet need from neighbouring authorities, as set out in a statement of common ground;

There may, occasionally, also be situations where previous levels of housing delivery in an area, or previous assessments of need (such as a recently-produced Strategic Housing Market Assessment) are significantly greater than the outcome from the standard method. Authorities are encouraged to make as much use as possible of previously-developed or brownfield land, and therefore cities and urban centres, not only those subject to the cities and urban centres uplift may strive to plan for more home. Authorities will need to take this into account when considering whether it is appropriate to plan for a higher level of need than the standard model suggests.

Paragraph: 010 Reference ID: 2a-010-20201216
Revision date: 16 12 2020

Now much of this should be policy not guidance. The phrase for example ‘there will be circumstances’ directly contradicts the test of ‘exceptional circumstances’

Of course at the examination this was challenged. No housing deal for the area, not a growth area then. Nothing in the guidance on underenumeration and cross checking with other data when ONS projections are out of date.

Darlington and Stockton Times

CAMPAIGNERS who have spent years battling a local authority’s ambition to build 11,000 new homes in the next 15 years mainly over open countryside say they are optimistic the target could be cut.

After almost 50 hours’ of examination by a government planning inspector, it remains unclear whether Darlington Borough Council will be told by the Planning Inspectorate to change its Local Plan.

The blueprint, which will shape where developments should be built until 2036, has attracted controversy since the previous Labour administration set its housebuilding target, which campaigners claim is far in excess of what will be needed.

The Local Plan was among the main issues fought over before the 2019 election, but the Conservative-run council has not sought to change the target or a proposal to build some 4,500 homes built on countryside north-east of the town at Skerningham.

The authority has insisted the area is needed to bring forward the amount of housing that is needed and that the development would be supported by new services such as schools, public transport and health facilities.

However, over the past five weeks residents and campaigners, supported by Darlington Green Party, have called for “rebalancing of the plan to preserve popular green spaces, wildlife habitats and a community woodland from the threat of house and road building”.

While the council argued the volume of construction is proportionate as well as economically and socially vital for the borough, campaigners told the inspector the proposals were at a “uncontrolled, inappropriate and damagingly unsustainable” scale.

Richard Cowen, of countryside charity CPRE told the inspector the government’s calculated housing need for the borough stood at 177 per year, but the council was aiming to get 490 new houses built annually.

He said while the government’s figure was not a limit, housebuilding should be similar to the government’s projected need unless there are exceptional circumstances. Mr Cowen said: “As a result, extra land may be lost under tarmac that would have a significant impact on biodiversity, particularly farmland birds, a matter that concerned Durham Bird Club.” 

Green Party councillor Matthew Snedker said while it remained unclear whether the campaigners had won any of the arguments, but planning inspector William Fieldhouse had accepted their calculations over housing need. Cllr Snedker said it was a possibility that the Skerningham Garden Village proposal could be removed from the plan as a result. He said: “Mr Fieldhouse accepted that some of the proposed housebuilding sites could come out of the Local Plan and it still remain sound. We left no stone unturned in challenging the plans.”

The inspector is expected to publish his findings in the coming weeks before the Local Plan is adopted by the council in August or September.

Sorry Mr Feldhouse but this would be a great mistake, if areas in historically deprived areas such as Darlington grow and attract more migrants this is exactly what the government’s levelling up agenda aims to achieve. Darlington would , ridiculously, be forced to reduce its housebuilding rate to 2/3rds of what it has been over the last decade.

Also the ugly and contradictory sections on the Method in NPPF and NPPG need to be tidied up, on how the urban uplift works when you don’t have urban capacity is even more of a dogs breakfast which I will devote a future article to.

If jobs led housing strategies are to go unless they are ‘exceptional’ what about Ox-Cam Arc? Where this is the whole point and where current plans are looking beyond growth deal horizons and so the NPPG doesnt apply.

One thought on “Don’t Plan for Economic Growth and a Jobs Led Plan – the Standard Method Wont let you Level Up

  1. Pingback: Doncaster Inspector Endorses Jobs Led Local Plan Target – So why isnt the Darlington Inspector? | Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

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