‘Between a rock and a hard place’

The Department for Levelling Up Homes and Communities (DLUHC) did promise to publish the NPPF consultation before Christmas and, they were good to their word, the consultation was sneaked out on 22 December. The industry has until 2nd March to respond to the proposals.

The Government really is between a rock and a hard place – it has a manifesto commitment to build 300,000 new homes per year by the middle of the decade, but the majority of those homes are needed in the southeast in areas that are predominantly Conservative. The backbenchers are rebelling as they see housebuilding as a key issue in their areas in the run-up to the next General Election in 2024 or early 2025. The result of the Amersham and Chesham by-election in 2021 is still fresh in their minds when the LibDems overturned a huge Conservative majority with the main issue the development of HS2.

Everyone accepts that there is a housing need; there is a huge pent-up demand which can only be resolved by building more new homes, and the housing market can only be stabilised by increasing supply to begin to satisfy that demand. The impact of historic undersupply can be seen in many towns and cities – growing populations not just from people moving into new homes but intensifying occupation of existing homes with growing numbers of HMOs. This in itself has ramifications with parking problems and antisocial behaviour.

How housing need is calculated is going to be important: basing calculations on anything but the most recent figures will probably not cut the mustard. But councillors must realise that any figure has to be justified to the inspector, and have an evidence base, which undoubtedly would be using ONS figures and household formation projections, which is what happens now.

Building in the green belt is another huge issue. There are murmurings that perhaps the green belt itself is overdue for reform – it has not been reviewed since it was set up in 1947. It is widely agreed that such a review is needed and the green belt reformed, but no government has yet had the will, or the guts, to propose it.

Undoubtedly, the current DLUHC proposals will be watered down from those published, once the consultation has concluded and the responses assessed. To what degree we will have to wait and see.