‘Perfect storm’ warning over housebuilding targets

Ray Dawe, leader of Horsham District Council
Ray Dawe, leader of Horsham District Council

A ‘fundamentally flawed’ Government consultation on improving housebuilding nationally could result in a ‘perfect storm’ for the Horsham district, council officers have warned.

Currently Horsham District Council’s housing target is 800 homes a year over the life of its 20-year local plan, which was agreed in November 2015.

But a Government consultation paper suggests that the Horsham district could provide 974 homes per annum from 2016-2026, an increase of 174 a year.

However this figure might be as high as 1,173 homes a year, according to HDC’s formal response to ‘Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places’.

Council officers challenged the ‘fundamentally flawed’ assumption that increasing housing supply will lead to reduced demand and lower prices.

The response also argues that a ‘one-size-fits-all approach is too blunt a tool to identify housing need on a national basis and it will simply entrench the North-South divide with regard to house prices and the pressure for development’.

Ray Dawe, leader of the council, said: “While our officers continue to hear from developers about their ideas for sites and look at what might be possible, this building rate is simply not sustainable.

“Our local infrastructure cannot cope with the scale of change proposed and the resulting increasing strain unless there is major government investment in our roads, railways, medical provision and schools.”

Claire Vickers, cabinet member for planning and development, added: “Whilst the council understands the need for more housing across the country, we feel very strongly that we have already played our part by working to the requirements placed on us by the government when making the local plan.

“These latest figures suggest an increase of at least 40 per cent.

“The government needs to understand that we simply cannot keep increasing the house build at this rate and we will therefore be taking a very active and robust role in the Government consultation.

“We want the public to know that we are doing everything we can to make sure our views are heard and understood at the highest level.”

The response went on to challenge the proposed housing target for the Horsham district due a lack of new available sites, the time taken to bring forward existing sites with the infrastructure required, and constraints caused by market forces.

It warned these would result in a ‘perfect storm’ where the delivery of housing could not be delivered at the level identified, opening up the district to indiscriminate development.

It was also pointed out that since the Horsham district is a net exporter of labour with residents commuting to other areas, any extra new housing would still be filled by ‘additional highly waged individuals’, meaning house prices would not fall.

The council has also argued that measures are needed to force developers with planning permission to build rather than land banking and called for ‘meaningful sanctions’ if schemes do not start quickly.

HDC’s warnings echo those made by the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

Roger Smith, from the CPRE’s Sussex branch, said: “At first glance readers of the proposals might think the proposals therein are sensible because the stated intent is to use a standardized mathematical formula to determine house-building targets.

“However, on closer scrutiny, how these numbers, which differ in magnitude by 50,000, have been arrived at is not explained. This omission is a fundamental flaw and the ‘method’ is in reality mathematical hocus pocus.

“All of this matters greatly for Horsham and Mid Sussex districts because the proposed methodology would result in huge additions to their already excessive targets.

“It would result in the loss of Horsham District’s five year housing land supply, with negative consequences for Neighbourhood Plans – and for essential infrastructure and services across the county, which is already overstretched.”

John Kay, also from CPRE Sussex, added: “What is needed is a mechanism to ensure the allocated and sustainable sites are actually delivered.

“There is nothing in these proposals to help. In fact this particular proposal would be counter-productive.”

In a letter to the County Times, Rudgwick resident Paul Kornycky warned that current Government proposals would mean the council would have to find sites for another 2,600 homes, the equivalent of another North Horsham development somewhere in the district.

He added: “The proposals seem absolutely blinkered in that simply by increasing the planned numbers, all will be ok.

“But of course we all know that it won’t because developers will still hoard land with planning permission and delay build-out until they can make fat profits.”

Meanwhile Roger Arthur, who was HDC’s deputy leader until 2013 and has stood as UKIP’s parliamentary candidate in Horsham twice, said: “Clearly developers have far more interest in projected profit margins, than in arbitrary housing ‘needs’.

“Since councils do not have the power to deliver against such projections, target adjustment needs to be made, taking account of the economic and affordability factors.

“Unfortunately the new formulae proposed to develop targets, does not include adequate adjustment for such factors.

“So sadly we will continue to see speculative development on green fields and even on flood prone land, with infrastructure which is unfit for service.”

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