Housing delivery test: what it means for Kent

Last week’s announcement of results from the 2019 Housing Delivery Test looks at first like very dry reading, but for some Kent districts the consequences could be far-reaching.

The Test was introduced when the National Planning Policy Framework was revised in 2018. The NPPF sets high targets for the number of homes for which each area must plan, and the Test measures how well each district is doing at delivering those homes.

There is no doubt we need to build more homes, but the method for calculating the number required in each district is a blunt tool and one that takes little account of local housing needs or constraints.

The targets are based on statistical growth projections that are then adjusted to take into account the local affordability of houses.

Put simply, in Kent, where property prices are high and local full-time salaries tend to be relatively low, it means housing targets calculated in this way exceed the projected household growth and far outstrip the rates at which the building industry delivers housing.

Housebuilders only complete houses at the rate they know the local market will absorb them; there is simply no incentive for them to build any faster just to address local need.

What do the housing test results mean in practice? Across Kent, only four districts (Dartford, Maidstone, Shepway and Tonbridge & Malling) can demonstrate they are meeting these targets.

All the rest are to have sanctions applied that mean they must either demonstrate an action plan demonstrating the steps they will take to meet those targets (Ashford, Canterbury, Dover and Tunbridge Wells), or they must take steps to allocate yet more sites to build 20 per cent more homes over and above the existing targets (Gravesham, Medway, Sevenoaks and Swale).

Thanet, meanwhile, is one of eight local authorities across the country that fails the delivery test to such a spectacular degree that it is now officially required to adopt a presumption in favour of all housing development. This means that speculative planning applications which would normally never be accepted as sustainable or desirable must be, in large part, given a green light.

The irony, of course, is that local authorities are being penalised by having to allocate sites not in their Local Plan, and which are sequentially less and less sustainable, when the rate of delivery and release of homes is entirely within the hands of the development industry and beyond the control of local authorities.

It is iniquitous that local authorities – and more importantly local communities –must suffer from ever-more green spaces being allocated against targets which remain unreasonable.

This is the very opposite of good town planning.

Monday, February 17, 2020

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