East Devon rejects ‘ludicrous’ algorithm doubling number of homes to be built in the district

Owl is delighted to read of this example of cross party support and cooperation in strategic policy development.

Joseph Bulmer and Daniel Clark sidmouth.nub.news 

East Devon District Council has registered its opposition to a ‘ludicrous’ algorithm that could see double the number of new homes have to be built each year.

The Government is set to change the method they use for calculating the amount of housing each district should provide each year, with the new method seeing the numbers in East Devon rise by 67 per cent, Mid Devon by 75 per cent, and Teignbridge by 102 per cent.

But councillors have said that the figures are ‘completely unacceptable’, have come from an algorithm that makes no sense, and that it is very difficult to see there being enough people in the country that would want or be compelled to move to the areas to fill this number of houses.

But East Devon District Council and Teignbridge District Council so far have agreed to oppose the proposed approach, believing that the numbers are both too great and most likely, undeliverable.

Last week’s East Devon District Council Strategic Planning Committee also unanimously agreed to adopt their proposed response would see opposition to the methodology.

Ed Freeman, service lead for planning strategy and development, in his report, said: “The East Devon housing requirement is increased by a massive 67 per cent from 928 dwellings to 1,614 new homes per year. The increase, by any standards, can only be seen as a staggeringly high increase on top of what was a high level anyway.

“It must be seriously questioned whether the number of houses for East Devon, and surrounding areas, even if credible land could be allocated for their development, will actually be built. It must be seriously questioned whether there would be sufficient numbers of people wishing to buy or rent a property in East Devon and surrounding areas to sustain the level of growth the figures imply.

“Short of a massive boon in jobs in our part of England or there being some other compelling reason why people will move here, it is extremely difficult to see anything approaching a market of sufficient size to see these levels of houses built. A move to greater homeworking my generate greater levels of migration to East Devon but the long term levels of migration arising from changes in working practices as a result of the current pandemic are unknown.

“In the case of East Devon, recent research for the Council undertaken by the consultancy firm ORS shows that to meet trend based needs there is a need for 757 dwelling a year and to address pent-up demand a need for 59 dwellings a year, giving a total of 816 dwellings per year. Deducting this figure from a district total of 1,614 implies that 798 households would need to move in to East Devon each year over and above established trends.

“This level of increase is simply not a credible prediction and much less so a credible policy response when it comes to planning for housing provision.”

Councillor Mike Allen said that being asked to increase by the numbers in this way was ludicrous. He said: “There is something fundamentally wrong with the algorithm, and it shows no relevance whatsoever to local democracy and reality on the ground.”

Councillor Ian Thomas added, referring to the chaos over exam results, said: “It has not been a good summer for the Government and algorithms. To jump by 67 per cent and 102 per cent worries me and it simply isn’t credible. We are dealing with a half cooked algorithm and whipping numbers out of the air is not acceptable.”

Councillor Kevin Blakey said that as developers won’t be keen to develop properties that they can’t sell very quickly, this couldn’t possibly work, while councillor Eleanor Rylance said that ‘if we don’t resist this, we will cover the West End in housing with no transport infrastructure’.

Teignbridge’s portfolio holder for planning, councillor Gary Taylor said: “One of the most contentious issues is the suggestion that housing numbers will be based on a nationally set formula where more homes have to be built annually in areas where open market housing is often not affordable to local residents.

“In Teignbridge, the changes mean that our housing requirement could increase by 101% to 1,532 homes, double the current requirement to build 760 houses a year. This is a figure which I am sure councillors will consider unacceptable.”

Councillor Taylor said that within the consultations there is a suggestion that the identified annual housebuilding figure would be varied by the availability of land and could be reduced if there was evidence of the lack of suitable space in Teignbridge for building.

“This is a consultation and no final decisions will be made by the Government until later in the year” he added. “But as a Council we will be responding to the consultation, welcoming changes designed to make the planning system more responsive but strongly opposing the housing numbers which will adversely impact on our communities and environment.”

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