Shock as government algorithm says Norfolk needs extra 2,000 homes every year
- Credit: Rose Sapey
Fears have been raised that more of Norfolk’s countryside could be lost because a change in how the government estimates need for new homes means nearly 2,000 extra would have to be built every year.
Council leaders and countryside campaigners alike have said such a figure is not achievable, based on the number of homes which have already been granted permission and have not been built.
And there are fears imposing the figure could lead to councils having to allow developments in greenfield areas where they would previously have had more power, through local plan processes, to say no to them.
The government has put forward a white paper which would bring a shake-up in the planning system and is also consulting on a change to the formula used to assess housing need.
In Norfolk, that change would mean the current target to build 4,116 homes a year would increase by just over 45pc to 5,969 new homes - an increase of 1,858 homes each year.
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And it throws up anomalies, such as an increase of more than 105pc expected in South Norfolk, where the 893 homes per year target would soar to 1,832.
Whereas, in Norwich, the target for homebuilding would fall by just over 16pc, from 598 a year to 502.
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John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council, said he was confident the government would pull back from a model which does not take enough account of local circumstances.
He said: “It’s preposterous and sets up the local planning system to fail. If that many homes were to be built it would be fully 50pc higher than the highest ever figure the Great Norwich area has ever delivered.
“Everybody knows the government has a manifesto commitment to build 300,000 homes a year, but asking councils to plan for large numbers does not necessarily mean they will be delivered.
“Councils are going to need far more funding and more powers to make developers keep their promises to ensure we get the housing our residents need.”
Mike Stonard, Norwich City Council cabinet member for sustainable and inclusive growth, said: “This one size fits all approach to establishing the need for new housing doesn’t take into account local circumstances or councils’ ambitions for growth.
“Calculating local housing need from a government algorithm, rather than numbers decided at local authority level, based on their planning and housing knowledge, plus collaboration with neighbouring councils, just doesn’t make sense.
“It also creates uncertainty for local authorities preparing local plans, for example Norwich which is currently working with the other Greater Norwich authorities (Broadland and South Norfolk councils) on development of the Greater Norwich Local Plan.
“We urge government to rethink these changes, and to come up with a revised approach to establishing housing need that reflects local circumstances.”
And the Norfolk branch of the Campaign To Protect Rural England (CPRE) is worried the move could lead to homes being built on greefield sites, rather than through careful planning.
The countryside charity fears that, coupled with a new zonal planning system, which would automatically grant outline planning permission across huge areas with little or no local discretion, it would be “almost impossible to prevent developers from cherry-picking green field sites while leaving urban brownfield land unused”.
Michael Rayner, planning campaigns consultant for CPRE Norfolk, said: “A crude housing algorithm is no way to solve the housing crisis: it will lead to too many houses being built in the wrong, often unsustainable locations.
“If the government’s proposals are adopted it is inevitable that Norfolk will lose much of its unique quality, as urbanisation would be allowed to encroach further into valued countryside.
“Instead, existing allocated sites for housing in Local Plans should be built-out before any further greenfield sites are added.”
However, there have been hints that the government is ready to make a u-turn, in the face of widespread opposition to its mooted changes.
Local government secretary Robert Jenrick has signalled he would entertain a “compromise” that was “fair and sensible”.