Assessment model will reduce development ambition in lower-value areas

Midland Heart

The new National Planning Policy Framework is welcome, but ministers need to reconsider the way it proposes housing needs should be assessed, say Abigaile Bromfield and Glenn Harris

Revisions to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) probably didn’t feature at the top of your summer reading list, but for us, and many like-minded folk working to deliver affordable housing, it certainly did.

Recent research from Savills reaffirmed that the availability of land is the biggest barrier to housing associations like Midland Heart developing more homes, and planning clearly has a substantial role to play within that.

We were first consulted on the proposed planning reforms as part of the Housing White Paper and, 18 months on, we were pleased to see the positive changes finally being delivered:

  • The Housing Delivery Test will spell out which local authorities are building sufficient housing and apply pressure on those that are not.
  • There will be more transparency over developer contributions and viability assessments, helping to ensure as many sites as possible contribute affordable homes.
  • ‘Social rent’ has been restored to the definition of affordable housing.
  • There will be a standardised model for local authorities to assess housing need. Like many in the sector we welcome this change in approach, as for too long local authorities have been inconsistent, leaving them open to challenge.

All good news, but here is our sticking point: the proposed model will dampen ambition in lower-value areas like the Midlands, where local authorities such as Birmingham could see their annual housing targets reduced by almost 900 homes.

Ruth Cooke, our former chief executive, first cautioned against this approach in Inside Housing last year. For those who are not familiar with the make-up of the West Midlands or the local housing situation it may be useful to draw attention to scale of the challenge we face.

The population of Birmingham alone is set to rise by 185,000 people over the next 25 years, and that does not even account for the huge economic boost we will receive from projects like HS2 and UK Central.

It is right that the government should recognise that household growth numbers alone are an insufficient indicator of emerging housing need, and look to a new methodology that will deliver new homes on the scale the country so desperately needs.

However, based on these stats and indeed similar figures from local authorities across the country, the proposed model is not fit for purpose for many of the communities in which we work, and we have made this clear to the government.

This formula to incorporate both household growth projections and house-price-to-earnings ratios will turn up the heat on local authorities in already highly pressured housing markets in the South East without offering sufficient growth opportunities elsewhere.

The standardised model was omitted from the revised NPPF published last week, with the government saying it will review its position after the latest household projection figures have been published in September.

We hope the government will use this time to reconsider. We need a new model which sets ambitious targets in areas with less extreme house prices but where the need is still great; a model that allows places like Birmingham to properly plan for economic growth and regeneration.

Midland Heart has an ambitious development programme with more than 600 homes on site. We are committed to working with Government to address the shortage of affordable homes, but we need a model for assessing housing need that will support us to deliver.

Abigaile Bromfield, planning leader and finance and new business committee member, Midland Heart and Glenn Harris, chief executive, Midland Heart