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New proposals for assessing housing need: giving communities greater control or a step away from localism?


Our Managing Director, Rob Allaway, provides some thoughts on the Government’s proposals for assessing housing need:

The launch of the consultation on assessing housing need by the DCLG last week will be the cause of angst in a number of local authorities who feel that they have already gone above and beyond in meeting housing needs in their adopted and emerging plans. The consultation paper describes the approach as giving local communities greater control. However, some might see such explicit guidance from Central Government as a step away from localism.

When the regional spatial strategies were abolished, one thought crossed my mind “be careful what you wish for”.

Before their abolition and the introduction of Localism, many authorities were able to blame the then Government and the Regions for imposing housing numbers on local authorities. But, with the introduction of the NPPF and local authority control over assessing their own housing need, the buck would stop with LPAs when having to explain housing delivery targets to local communities.

Since then, politicians in many councils have struggled to digest the objectively assessed need presented by their officers. Under the new approach, the use of median affordability ratios will place a responsibility on some of these authorities to further increase delivery and will be particularly concerning to those neighbouring areas which include Green Belt and other constraints.

The duty to cooperate has often been a bone of contention where there is unmet need. The debate around these issues will only heat up when the new methodology comes into force next Spring. It is not surprising that Government is looking to reinforce this duty through Statements of Common Ground.

The Government’s approach might well be the right one to improve housing delivery but it will increase political consternation.  One MP representing an area just outside London has described the ask as “simply impossible” and announced that she is seeking urgent talks with the Secretary of State.

Does the Government’s approach give local communities greater control? Perhaps it enables some authorities to again lay the blame for housing targets at the door of Central Government. But maybe that is what some authorities need in order to deliver the numbers at a local level.