14/1/21 – Local Housing: Applying the Government’s Standard Methodology

On 6th August last year, the Government proposed a new ‘standard method’ for calculating local housing need. This consultation led to widespread media coverage and political debate as to where housing would best be located, and its potential impact on Green Belt areas. Following its consultation on the Standard Method, the Government on 16 December sought to resolve the issue through the publication of a written Ministerial Statement, updates to Planning Practice Guidance on Local Housing Need to set the new standard method approach; and a spreadsheet with the indicative figures from the updated method. A copy of the spreadsheet can be viewed here.

When applying the new standard methodology, for most local authorities outside of the 20 largest urban areas there is little change as the method remains as it was when first introduced in 2017 (which was based on applying the 2014 household projections, with a percentage uplift reflecting the price-income affordability of housing, subject to the 40% cap). The numbers are expected to change slightly due variations in affordability, although the ten-year period in which it is calculated and the plan related cap ensures a level of stability.

Under the new method, a 35% ‘uplift is applied to the top 20 largest cities and urban centres. The current top 20, which may change over time, include Birmingham, Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Coventry, Derby, Kingston upon Hull, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle upon Tyne, Nottingham, Plymouth, Reading, Sheffield, Southampton, Stoke-on-Trent, and Wolverhampton. It is evident from the revised methodology that the Government aim to focus on urban areas and the use of brownfield sites to increase housing growth as required in its Planning for the Future white paper.

Appeal site on edge of an urban area dismissed, following Aitchison Raffety involvement

Against the backdrop of the Standard Methodology and the Governments focus on growth directed to urban areas, Aitchison Raffety was involved in objecting to a planning application for 300 homes at Grange Park on behalf of Quinton parish council.

The site lay in open countryside controlled by the authority of South Northamptonshire District Council but sat directly adjacent to the Northampton Related Development Area [NRDA] which is intended to accommodate additional housing growth that cannot be accommodated in Northampton Borough. A series of planned Sustainable Urban Extensions in the NRDA are allocated in the adopted Core Strategy, but have not yet come forward as housing sites. This has resulted in South Northamptonshire District Council having a housing shortfall within the NRDA area, which wraps around land controlled by Northampton Borough Council (where there is also a recognised housing shortfall).

Policy S4 of the Core Strategy related specifically to the NRDA, and states: “Northampton’s needs, both housing and employment, will be met primarily within Northampton’s existing urban area and at the sustainable urban extensions within the Northampton Related Development Area boundary. Additional development to meet Northampton’s needs will be supported only if it meets the vision, objectives and policies of this plan”. The site was located neither within the urban area nor at an identified “sustainable urban extension” within the NRDA. It lay outside the NRDA in the ‘rural areas’ where South Northamptonshire District Council has a demonstrable housing land supply position of 7.54 years. In such circumstances Policy S4 requires the decision-taker to consider whether the proposal meets the vision, objectives and policies of the development plan.

South Northamptonshire District Council had also signed a memorandum of understanding with neighbouring authorities agreeing that they would not support any further NRDA development beyond the strategic allocations identified in its Core Strategy. The memorandum equated to any additional unplanned urban extensions being strategic matter which should be dealt with by review of the Core Strategy.

Speaking on behalf of Quinton Parish Council at the planning committee, Aitchison Raffety was able to help overturn the recommendation of the case officer to grant planning permission. Members found that the proposal was in conflict with a series of policies and strategic objectives from the Core Strategy indicating that the proposal did not accord with the development plan overall. This led to the proposal being refused by members on three grounds which included, (1) the proposal being heavily dependent upon private car travel which would not provide satisfactory means of access for pedestrians and cyclists or reduce the need to travel by alternative modes of transport, representing unsustainable development; (2) resulting in large scale unplanned development in the open countryside outside of the village confines of Grange Park; and (3) due to the sites proximity to the M1 motorway the proposal risking exposure to high levels of air and noise pollution.

The scheme proceeded to appeal as an Inquiry, where the appellant made a case that it was acceptable to expect all the residents to walk through the woods on an unmade path just to get to the bus stop and local shops.

The Inspector disagreed recognising that the residents would be unlikely to enjoy walking through the woods particularly in the dark, and that it was a very long distance to the shops. The appellant had tried to run a case that a distance of 2km was perfectly acceptable, but the Inspector rejected the notion highlighting National Design Guidance which mentions 10-minute walks and 800m radius as desired distances. Even where a case was made that residents could cycle, the Inspector recognised not everybody cycles; and even dismissed the notion that electric bikes were a solution to the lack of connectivity as it would require a transformational change in attitudes before that could be given any weight.

Some may say that given the Government are particularly keen to direct growth to urban areas, that the appeal should have been a land-use based planning exercise; however, as this decision shows development must still be located in the right locations and represent sustainable development. As the Inspector found in their decision the development plan in which a proposal sits still takes primary over any housing shortfall in a neighbouring urban area, even where the transition between urban and rural is defined by that of a settlement boundary. A copy of the appeal decision can be found here.

For further information contact Andrew Gray, Associate Director, Planning, via email to andrew.gray@argroup.co.uk.