Wealden demands fairer housing targets

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Members of Wealden District Council’s Cabinet recently met online with Nus Ghani, and the other three MPs that cover the Wealden area.

Bob Standley, Leader of the Council, said the discussion covered a wide range of housing related matters:

We requested a meeting with Members of Parliament to discuss the housing numbers the Council is being asked to include in its Local Plan. MPs were also keen to hear the views of Wealden Councillors. The Council is keen to progress the Local Plan that will provide local need for housing and jobs.

Cllr Bob Standley, Leader Wealden District Council

The Council have said they recognise that whilst housing is required, it is important to protect the environment and ensure the correct infrastructure is provided.

MPs were asked to consider five proposals. Wealden’s Cabinet believe these would either better reflect the actual need for housing or limit speculative planning applications whilst the new Local Plan is being developed.

Cllr Ann Newton, Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development, said our MPs have agreed to discuss the issues with The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG):

The meeting raised a number of proposals that lessen the impact of the current housing numbers.

Following a constructive conversation, our MPs have agreed to discuss these issues with Ministers at MHCLG. We will continue to work with our MPs and MHCLG to seek a fairer approach to our housing targets as we produce our new Local Plan.

Cllr Newton, Portfolio Holder for Planning and Development

A Local Plan sets-out the guiding principles used to determine development of an area, taking into account the local economic, social and environmental conditions.

Wealden’s last Local Plan was withdrawn after a planning inspector concluded the Council had failed in its legal duty to co-operate with neighbouring authorities and their approach to model air quality impacts on the Ashdown Forest lacked scientific credibility.

Standard Method for assessing local housing need

Firstly, Wealden District Council want to be allowed to use more up-to-date household projections when calculating their targets. Currently the Government’s standard method requires planning authorities, like Wealden, to use 2014 data; despite there being more recent data in 2016 and 2018. The more recent projections would result in fewer homes being required in Wealden.

An adjustment is then made to the baseline figure to take account of the relative affordability of homes in the area when compared to average income. Wealden District Council’s second proposal is they want this affordability adjustment either removed or reduced. In Wealden, this increases the housing figure by a capped amount of 40%. Removal of this factor would reduce the housing target in Wealden by 350 homes per year.

The Government’s assumption is that the maximum level of mortgage finance that is typically available to home buyers is four-times their salary. Therefore where average house prices are more than four-times earning, houses are unaffordable. That must mean too few homes are available, and the housing target is increased as a result. The more unaffordable homes become, the greater the increase to the housing target required. The theory being, the more houses built in an area the more affordable they will become.

This adjusted figure is then used to compare to the number of homes with planning permission that can be built within the next five years, to give a 5-Year Housing Land Supply. So the higher the figure from the formula the larger Wealden’s 5-year target.

Thirdly, Wealden District Council want to be allowed to count all of 7,500 homes that have been granted (outline or full planning consent) to calculate the 5-year land supply figure. This would reduce pressure to grant further planning consents in the short term, allowing the Council time to develop its Local Plan.

Transitional period to develop the Local Plan

Wealden District Council also want the Government to grant them a temporary reduction in housing requirement whilst they are developing their Local Plan. This fourth proposal, they have said, would limit the more speculative applications.

Incentive to build houses

Their final proposal, is to change the timing when developers have to pay the Community Infrastructure Levy. CIL pays for the infrastructure needed to support growth in an area. Wealden District Council want the rules changed by the Government, so developers pay the CIL one year after an approval is granted, rather than currently when they start on the site. This would act as an incentive for them to start building sooner. The Local Government Association, the national membership body for local authorities, have proposed allowing Council Tax to be charged on unbuilt homes as an incentive for them to build straight away rather than land-banking.

Cllr Gareth Owen-Williams (Lib Dem, Crowborough Jarvis Brook) said:

At last, local Conservative MPs, rightly concerned by voters’ anger about the goldrush for developers in Wealden, have agreed they have a responsibility to help the District Council clear up the mess.

It seems all now agree a new Local Plan is needed urgently to give control of development back to local people.

The agreed actions are good ideas and I hope the Conservative government will agree to them, although the Lib Dem’s view is that housing targets should be set by an evidenced based assessment of how many new homes of what type are really needed in Wealden, not by a one size fits all mathematical formula.

Cllr Owen-Williams

James Partridge, recently fought for a seat on East Sussex County Council for the Liberal Democrats. He came within 35 votes of taking the seat from the Conservatives. Whilst campaigning, he said he spoke to hundreds of Crowborough residents:

The most common concern was over-development with many blaming the existing District Council leadership for the collapse of the Local Plan and the unrestricted building that we’re now facing. Many who would normally vote Conservative were looking at other parties and talking to the Liberal Democrats.

James Partridge
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