A stark north-south divide in government estimates of the number of new homes areas need to build each year to meet demand has been revealed by LGC analysis.
While London and areas across the south and eastern parts of the country are generally expected to increase their output, conurbations in the West Midlands and across the north could be given an excuse to reduce their housebuilding ambition.
Housing and economic experts, along with local leaders, have now questioned the Department for Communities & Local Government’s standardised methodology for housing need, a key proposal in the housing white paper now being consulted on.
Communities secretary Sajid Javid said last month building 266,000 homes each year should be the “starting point for local plans across England” – an increase of about 10,000 on the government’s previous annual target.
LGC analysed the DCLG’s estimates for housing need – which are non-binding but will inform locally devised targets – and compared them with each area’s latest local assessment.
It showed London is expected to build almost an extra 21,000 new homes each year, on top of the 41,000 boroughs already estimate they need.
London Councils housing lead Sir Steve Bullock (Lab) told LGC: “What struck lots of us is the figures don’t appear to bear any relation to our understanding of the ability of individual boroughs to increase their targets – the numbers just don’t stack up … because apart from anything else they don’t have the land to do this.”
Sir Steve is also mayor of Lewisham LBC which is in line for one of the largest uplifts – rising 90% from 1,670 new homes per annum to 3,181.
The top 10 list of biggest increases in both real terms and proportional to local estimates is dominated by London boroughs.
Hackney LBC – which has an estimated 85% increase in housing need from 1,758 homes a year to 3,251 – features in both lists. Mayor Philip Glanville (Lab) said DCLG estimates were “riding roughshod over the planning process”. He added: “Instead of pointlessly fiddling around in Whitehall, the government should show some basic common sense, unleashing a new generation of housebuilding by scrapping the arbitrary borrowing cap it has placed on councils like Hackney so we can get on and build the thousands of new homes we need.”
Mr Javid said increases would be capped at “no more than 40%” above an area’s local plan figure, or the ONS’s projection for household growth if the council does not have an adopted local plan. There are 31 areas with estimated increases higher than 40%. Of the 31, more than half (58%) are London boroughs; the remainder are in the south or east, with the exception of Lancashire’s Chorley BC.
While 83 out of 124 council areas (67%) in London, the south-east, and south west are expected to increase the number of homes they build each year, just 12 of the 69 council areas (or 17%) in the north-east, north-west, and Yorkshire and Humberside are in line for an increase on their original estimates.
Leeds City Council has asked inspectors for a delay in considering its housing proposals until early next year after receiving a reduced target. Richard Lewis (Lab), executive member for regeneration, transport and planning, said: “It’s vital that we have the right long-term housing target for the city and that we don’t have any unnecessary loss of greenfield and green belt land.”
However, Ed Cox, director of thinktank IPPR North, questioned the concept of reduced housing targets. “The idea we don’t need new homes in the north of England is contrary to the reality of the flourishing economies we see here, particularly in some of the bigger cities,” he said. “We need to look again at exactly how the methodology works in order to reassess government policy on this issue.”