Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Housing targets could drop after law change

HENLEY’S housebuilding targets could be cut under new legislation.

The Government is consulting on a revised method of assessing the need for housing nationally, which could reduce the number of new homes required in the town and surrounding villages by up to 25 per cent.

Next month South Oxfordshire District Council, the planning authority, will consult the public on its new draft local plan, which outlines how many new homes are needed by 2033.

Henley expects to have to take more than 1,000 new houses while the 12 “larger villages”, including Sonning Common, Goring, Watlington and Woodcote, could see their original allocations more than double.

These figures are based on the Oxfordshire strategic housing market assessment, a mandatory report commissioned by Oxford City Council and the county’s four district councils in 2014.

The report, which said South Oxfordshire should take between 725 and 825 new homes a year, was criticised by the district council and Henley MP John
Howell.They said the authors had counted the number of new jobs that could be created and the expansion of existing households without considering that some jobs would go to people already living here.

Now, following pressure from Mr Howell and others, communities minister Sajid Javid wants to introduce a new formula based on official household growth forecasts and excluding economic growth.

This would mean South Oxfordshire would have to take 617 new houses a year, only a slight increase on the 547 required annually in the council’s existing local plan, which runs until 2027.

The proposal has gone out to consultation and could come into effect in April by which point a consultation on the draft of the new local plan should have finished and the document will be sent off for scrutiny by a planning inspector.

The district council says it must base its quotas on the 2014 report for now but the inspector will recommend changes based on planning law, which could take the new formula into account.

Henley only had to take a total of 400 houses under the current local plan but agreed to accept about 500 in its joint neighbourhood plan with Harpsden, which passed a referendum last year.

Earlier this year, the district council proposed increasing that target to 1,207 based on factors including the 2014 housing assessment and possible overspill from Oxford, which has a housing land shortage.

The council also proposed higher quotas for Sonning Common (from 195 to 364), Goring (105 to 295), Nettlebed (20 to 62), Watlington (79 to 251) and Woodcote (73 to 208).

The new formula would reduce Oxford’s quota from up to 1,600 homes per year to 746, which could further cut any new figure for the district.

In the latest version of the draft local plan, which was due to go before the district council’s cabinet for approval yesterday (Thursday), the total allocations for Henley, Thame and Wallingford collectively have been reduced from 1,355 homes to 1,155 while the “larger villages” must only take 1,041 instead of 1,122.

The district council says the figures for individual settlements are “restricted” until next month but are still based on the SHMA, meaning Mr Javid’s proposal would cut them further.

Henley town councillors have opposed any increase in Henley’s quota, saying it would place intolerable pressure on the town’s schools, doctors’ surgeries and road network.

Ken Arlett, chairman of the council’s neighbourhood plan committee, said: “I’d like to believe the new formula will be introduced but John Howell has announced a lot of things that haven’t happened.

“Although we don’t have to start updating our neighbourhood plan until the summer of 2019, we may as well get on with it when the district council gives us the final figure because we can’t be sure that this announcement will come to anything.

“One of the first things I asked about when we embarked on this process was infrastructure but nothing was done about it. If we’re going to have to take any more homes, that will be the first thing we have to discuss.

“Henley already faces terrible constraints. It takes me three or four weeks to see my doctor when it used to be a couple of days and you get stuck driving through the town at certain times of the day.”

Mr Howell said: “Of course there is a need for more housing, particularly cheaper market housing to allow first-time buyers to get on the property ladder.

“However, this proposal establishes a balance which is currently missing for making sure we get the right houses in the first place.

“The new methodology is very close to what I and others argued for before the election and ends the tyranny of the current strategic housing market assessment, which has dominated discussions between councils over recent months, and sets out a new and cheaper basis for undertaking calculations.

“There’s currently no set methodology for writing these assessments so councils spend a huge amount of money commissioning them and then challenging their findings. By starting with official figures, you have an objective measure of housing need.

“Some areas will not see a reduction but, to be honest, my only interest is in the Henley area and Oxfordshire.

“I sincerely hope that South Oxfordshire District Council will find a way of incorporating this into the local plan. The timing isn’t brilliant but it would be very sad if they moved forward on the basis of the old figures instead of what we’ve just given them.”

District council leader John Cotton said: “For now we’ll base our local plan on the 2014 report as it is the most up-to-date evidence we have. We can’t just work from something that might be implemented.

“However, we fully expect them to change the rules at some point in the spring and that could have a material impact.

“I’m a strong supporter of the suggested changes and John Howell deserves a big pat on the back. The proposal is remarkably similar to what he and others proposed and will help us tackle speculative development that spoils villages and fails to deliver infrastructure.”

To respond to the Goverment’s consultation, visit bit.ly/2xmyDse

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