Wealden councillors hit out at ‘unfair’ housing targets

Wealden council leaders are calling on the government to change the way it sets housing targets, arguing the current system is “completely unfair”.

Thursday, 9th September 2021, 3:33 pm
Housebuilding (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

The matter was raised at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday (September 8), which included discussion of the council’s performance figures for the first quarter of 2021/22.

These performance figures showed the council’s housing land supply – a measure of how many years’ worth of new homes the council has in its pipeline – had fallen from 3.8 years to 3.3 years since last reported.

This figure has significant implications for the district, as anything under five years results in a ‘presumption in favour’ for housing developments, giving local planners less control over what they can refuse. 

The fall in the land supply figure was the result of the government’s annual housing delivery test results, which were published in January.

In brief, the test found the number of new homes built in Wealden fell short of the number required by the government. As a result, the council needs to add a “buffer” to its housing land supply – putting the five year figure further out of reach. 

This came in for criticism from cabinet members, who argued that the test unfairly penalised the council for a part of the system it has less control over i.e. when developers build out the homes that planners have approved.

Cabinet member for planning Ann Newton said: “Because we had a lower number of houses built out than we should have done we have therefore gone into buffer territory which is really, really disappointing. 

“The housing delivery test is a real sting in the tail of planning as far as I am concerned. There is nothing we can do about approvals that aren’t built out. Nothing at all, it is out of our hands.  

“We are doing our best with ministers at the moment to address this completely unfair test.”

The housing delivery test for 2020 (which was published in January of this year) showed Wealden had been required to provide 2,862 new homes between 2017/18 and 2019/20. A total of 2,366 homes were delivered (i.e. built and ready for occupation) over the same period – 83 per cent of the target.

The council also laid out its concerns in a press statement sent out shortly before the meeting. 

In it, the authority said that council leader Bob Standley had written to the housing minister Christopher Pincher asking him to review the government’s methodology.

The council also says it currently has around 7,500 approved homes, which have not yet been built.

In the release, Cllr Standley said: “We are serious about meeting our housing need and understand that this is the starting point for establishing our requirement through our local plan, but we feel that it is critical to be clear that this is the right starting point, backed by evidence.”