In an open letter to MPs, East Devon District Council's Leader, and the Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning, express the Strategic Planning Committee's concerns about the pressures imposed by new houses.
The letter to Mel Stride, MP for Central Devon, Richard Foord, MP for Tiverton and Honiton, and Simon Jupp, MP for East Devon, reads:
Dear Mel, Richard and Simon,
Standard Method for Calculating Housing Need
We are writing on behalf of East Devon District Council following a debate at a meeting of the Council’s Strategic Planning Committee on the 5th September in which Members agreed to write to all of our local MP’s asking for your support in seeking a review of the standard methodology for calculating housing need and a more positive approach to solving the housing crisis.
The standard methodology is a crude and blunt instrument designed to deliver the government’s target of 300,000 homes a year. Using a mathematical equation to determine how many homes are built and where is a fundamentally flawed approach that pays no regard to key factors such as land availability and environmental constraints that need to be taken into account. The result is a housing need figure for East Devon that can only be met through harming our attractive landscape areas including two Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB’s) and areas where development has been shown to have a significant detrimental impact on designated wildlife habitats. Between them these areas make up well over 90% of East Devon. We have next to no brownfield sites to develop and so housing has to be built on attractive green field sites to the detriment of the landscape and wildlife. The natural environment is what attracts people to East Devon and makes it such a wonderful place to live but the standard method means that we have to sacrifice that to satisfy a housing need generated by a flawed algorithm.
The main input into the standard method is household growth projections but these projections are based on past trends. The impact of this on the housing need figure is massive and yet all that this means is that growth is directed to the locations that have historically seen growth. As a result those areas of the country that have historically done as successive governments have asked and accommodated growth are punished by ever increasing housing need figures. This is because growth leads to a growing population which in turn increases household growth projections thereby creating a need for even more homes.
East Devon has accepted huge amounts of growth in recent times through Cranbrook new town, large housing developments of thousands of homes on the edge of Exeter and urban extensions of many of our market towns. The number of homes delivered in east Devon per year has grown from around 700 a year less than 10 years ago to well over a 1000 in 2019. These developments have however used up the available land and led to a pattern of population and household growth that under the standard method fuels a supposed need for more and more homes in the future. These levels of growth are unsustainable and harmful to the environment and communities of East Devon.
As a district we have huge infrastructure requirements which are largely going unmet due to lack of funding. Our Infrastructure Delivery Plan (IDP) shows that we have a funding shortfall of over £70million just for priority 1 projects and that is based on 2017 prices. Hospitals and GP practices are oversubscribed, and schools are over-capacity in some areas and have substandard and insufficient accommodation and facilities. The main roads in and out of Exeter are heavily congested at peak times while public transport is infrequent, un-co-ordinated and does not serve many rural areas. We have substantial problems with the drainage system with foul drainage running down the streets in some villages after storm events as the combined sewers cannot cope while to deal with the excess flows Southwest Water discharge sewage off the coast causing massive environmental damage. All of these issues and more need to be addressed but at the moment the government simply wants to see more homes built which put more and more pressure on our failing infrastructure.
The standard method approach is disconnected from government policy in that it distributes housing numbers across the country with no regard to key government objectives around sustainability, climate change, bio-diversity, the ability of infrastructure to cope and the levelling up agenda. There is a desperate need to look to allocate new housing based on future needs and aspirations, the ability of locations to accommodate the growth and to protect the environment rather than based on past trends. To do this we need a joined up approach that looks at the ability of different areas to deliver growth that best meets the government’s national planning policies and aligns with the levelling up agenda. This could be achieved through a national housing strategy or through other mechanisms that use sound planning principles to determine where new homes are accommodated rather than maths.
Michael Gove announced at the end of last year changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) that would have given local authorities greater flexibility in terms of housing numbers and yet these changes have not come forward. Urgent action is needed before the character of East Devon is irreparably eroded to make way for new housing that is unaffordable to local people and cannot be accommodated without significant environmental harm.
East Devon District Council is calling on you to press the government to find a more positive approach to solving the housing crisis and a move away from algorithms that pay no regard to the consequences of new housing numbers on the environment and the communities affected by growth. We look forward to hearing from you.
Councillor Paul Arnott, leader of the council Councillor Olly Davey, Portfolio Holder for Strategic Planning