Campaign launched to change ‘inflexible’ formula for calculating housing numbers

A campaign to change the rules that govern the number of houses councils have to accommodate in their area has been launched by the Chiltern Society.

Eighty per cent of local authorities in the Chilterns are making plans to build houses in Green Belt because they say there is simply no-where else to go. Some councils are having to make room for two or three times more houses than they originally envisaged in their Local Plans because of the inflexible formula laid down for calculating housing need.

The end result, says the Society, a conservation charity with 7,000 members, will cause serious, irreversible damage to the Chilterns countryside, which stretches through Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

It is seeking urgent meetings with the area’s 15 MPs, including the Prime Minister Theresa May whose Maidenhead constituency borders the Chilterns and whose country home, Chequers, is within the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It says the current formula for calculating housing need is clumsy and inflexible and in need of fundamental reform.

“At the heart of the problem is the planning concept of Objectively Assessed Need (OAN) and the expectation that each planning authority should meet this need within its own area,” said Society chairman David Harris.

“This basically requires councils to calculate future housing needs by looking at past trends. In effect it leaves no leeway to consider the capacity of the area to accommodate the numbers.”

He added: “The Government’s latest Housing White Paper fails to recognise that in some circumstances OAN cannot be met without irreversible damage to the character of an area or undermining the fundamental purposes of Green Belt.”

The Society is calling for a four point change:

  • Housing targets to be determined more flexibly and intelligently
  • Green Belt, AONB and the overall character of an area to become legitimate reasons for reducing housing targets
  • Real housing need in an area to be considered instead of calculating numbers via a one-fits-all formula
  • Councils to be given the ability to deliver a range of homes in terms of tenure, type and size that meets genuine local need.

Mr Harris said: “Of course there is a need for new housing – indeed in this area there are particular issues for young people wishing to stay in the area they grew up in. But what is needed for such people is genuinely affordable or low-cost homes and in this respect the current system lets them down. By and large local councils cannot exert meaningful influence to ensure that the right type and number of housing for this local need is delivered.”