The sad planning saga of Exmouth’s Albatross, the Ocean Bowling Alley

Large public sector projects soon acquire an unstoppable momentum. When things go wrong it’s the taxpayer who foots the bill. 

From one of Owl’s researchers

As an unimpassioned outsider, this longstanding EDDC council tax payer, has watched with interest the history of the Ocean, Exmouth. I had thought the saga was finished and hopefully regenerating Exmouth. I now find in 2020 that I have had to help pay £2.7 million for the building, plus a lot more along the way.

The EDDC elected conservative councillors in the early 2000s had a growth agenda which included regeneration in Exmouth and Seaton of which most of the electorate were unaware. Planning officers appear to have been recruited to carry this out.  To a casual observer the evidence shows this tactic worked. The now 18 year’s long bowling alley saga is an example of this. I apologise for the length but it is a saga and I am sure I have missed out so much so please contact Owl to correct or add.

How did it all start?

June 1993

Tate Britain opened in June 1993 in St. Ives and was the regeneration of the town. Consequently seaside towns jumped on the bandwagon but with very mixed results. The Turner Gallery in Margate may be a successful gallery but economic data issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show the area around Turner Contemporary is still one of the 1% most deprived in the country. The Living Coasts in Torquay, the regeneration hope for the Riviera town, closed this year.

EDDC owned a site which had been undeveloped for years on Exmouth seafront with 2 retail units. It was the site of Exmouth’s open air swimming pool which opened in 1932 on the seafront and was identified in The Exmouth Waterfront Study for leisure-related activity to complement existing seafront activities.

2001

EDDC, under the Conservative leadership of Councillor Sarah Randall Johnson (who spent more than £175,000 of EDDC money fighting the Boundary Committee and the plans for unitary Devon) and Councillor Ray Franklin (EDDC planning and regeneration supremo for 15 years) invited tenders for the development of the site as a leisure activity.  The land was subject to continuing tenancies and covenants that restricted the use of leisure activities imposed by the freeholder of the land, Clinton Devon Estates (CDE). And it is a pity that when mentioning these covenants in the negotiations, EDDC did not specify the height restriction of 30 feet. This would have saved the council who paid £50,000 to release this covenant ten years later in 2010.

November 2002

The tender was won by FWS Carter and Sons who submitted planning application 02/P2572, the first of 16 revised plans. The planning portal does not contain all the planning documents, only those which were approved, therefore the original application cannot be seen. A revised scheme was submitted in August 2003 for a bowling alley, 6 retail units, 2 cafés and restaurants and children’s play area. This was passed, although there had been a failure previously of a bowling alley in the town. The height had increased from the initial plans to 38 feet. The modern contemporary design was considered by the planning officials not to compromise the adjacent conservation area.

Approved plan 2003

2005

Nothing has happened on the ground at the Esplanade but a lot has happened in EDDC.  Karime Hassan was appointed Corporate Director and set up the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point and also established regeneration programmes for Exmouth and Seaton. The influential East Devon Business Forum was created in 2005 and FWS Carter and sons and CDE were members. Kate Little was Planning Chief whose mission included “dragging Budleigh Salterton into the 21th century with contemporary architecture” and, in retrospect, it looks like all of East Devon.

March 2005

On the Esplanade there is now a new developer, Mark Quinn of Harlequinns Bowling and Leisure Ltd, who owned a bowling alley in Bude. It is said that the design was not what he originally wished as planning officers kept saying they wanted a larger more “Iconic building”. There was a new planning application, 05/0901. This was approved with the same footprint and height as the 2003 scheme and with only modest alteration to the physical appearance. The retail units were reduced to 4 with the specification that no further reduction should take place as amalgamation of units with bigger floor area would draw retail activities from the town.

How many shops are there now- one -and what size and what does it sell? 

March 2007

Another planning application was passed – 07/0743- and a new architect, J. Staszewski of Strode Treglow appointed. If any councillors and planning officers wanted an iconic building which would regenerate Exmouth they had one now. A slightly increased size building; a roof with broken waves and even its own timber- clad look-out tower, topped with a wind turbine. At a roof line of 44 feet this definitely exceeded CDE’s 30 foot maximum. The retail units were reduced to three to create 2 additional bowling alleys.

2008

Hooray, the building commences. Oh dear, the building stops! It has been built too tall and not to plan!

October 2009

The building just sat there. Mr Staszewski and Mr Quinn said they had “run into some problems” which had caused a delay in the construction process. Mr. Quinn, later, said he had been forced to halt work for around 18 months while legal wrangles were ironed out when structural difficulties arose early on in the development.

January 2010

Another planning application passed, 09/2564, to regularise the building work carried out and seek permission for a further increase in height so that the building can be finished. The residents are not happy but the councillors just want to see it finished.

The planning officer’s report to the Development Management Committee defended the size of the part of the building already erected by saying that when the glazing and cladding is inserted this will break up the bulk.

May 2011

Planning application 11/1157 passed with minor changes: the addition of a new roof over the previous open terrace area and a further increase in the height of the building; the universally hated wind turbines removed; 2 additional retails units approved because they were deemed too small to harm the town centre.

Approved plan 2011

January 2012

Local caterer Aby Farmanieh pulled out of catering deal as a completion date hadn’t been confirmed.

November 2012

EDDC issued legal notice to Harlequin Leisure in an attempt to speed up the development, which has so far taken five years. It threatened Mark Quinn to either complete the project or hand the building back to the local authority if it was not completed within two months.

The company says that “everything is fine”, and a large team are on site working hard to get the bowling alley ready to open in the new year.

December 2012

At last it OPENS. Bowling alley manager Isaac Robb, one of the UK’s top chefs, and his wife Grainne, who have taken on the new attraction, were serving food on Boxing Day.

July 2013

The Robbs leave the business.

June 2015

EDDC engineer a take-over of the lease of Exmouth sea front facility by LED Leisure Management. Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme, said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who lives in Exmouth or who comes to the resort for holidays or leisure” Some disagreed when they looked at the generous guarantor terms provided for LED (tenant) and Harlequinns (landlord) by EDDC.  Should LED become in default the amounts involved are eg. £200,000 a year for the fifth year of the term.

February 2016

New application, 16/0409 passed. This goes back to a single mini-market retail unit which planning officials now say would not generate a level of activity to harm the town.

July 2018

Ocean goes on the market for £2,700,000

March 2020

EDDC buys the building for £2.7 million. Full council only informed in October 2020. I find this extraordinary that £2.7 million can be spent without the full council’s knowledge.

October 2020

LED estimates a loss of £1.3m in the current year as a result of COVID-19 restrictions over the leisure centres it operates in the East Devon area. It has asked for funds ranging between £616,000 and £1.276m from EDDC. As a charitable trust it is unable to claim 75 per cent of lost income under a central government scheme whereas leisure facilities operated by Local Authorities can do so. (This has happened after I started researching this piece.)

CONCLUSION

Having looked at so many planning documents and all the planning officers’ decision reports to councillors all I can say is that, once started, this project HAD to go ahead at the expense of the neighbouring residents, the seafront historical environment and even the town centre. All this could go ahead using ambiguous planning policies. As long as comments are taken into account, other considerations can be given greater weight. Take the 2001 approval for a retail area with 6 units; small units which would sell seaside goods which would not compete with the town centre – reduced to 4; increased to 5; this space is  now 2 bowling lanes, an amusement arcade (the Hon. Mark Rolle of CDE would turn in his grave) and a Budgens mini- market selling groceries. The planners in their reports can argue, quite legitimately, first one way then another.

Has it regenerated Exmouth? Even pre-Covid Exmouth town centre still looked sad. Seaton? Has Tesco regenerated the town or just its own profits?

This grandiose scheme opened up the way for the Elizabeth Hall/ Premier Inn, M & S on the estuary, the re-alignment of Queen’s Road, the Watersports Area and goodness know what next.

[One of Owl’s correspondents has recently queried whether EDDC needed to purchase the Ocean, musing on what the outcome on the building’s ownership might have been under insolvency.]

Devon’s blind loyalty to the Tory Party results in diddly-squat (again)

For those who missed it in yesterday’s post about Cllr Martin Shaw’s latest press release about free school meals, contained this interesting snippet of information::

“Cabinet Minister Brandon Lewis said yesterday that the Government had given councils £63m to support families, but Cllr Hart tells me that Devon has been given the smallest amount of new Covid funding of any County Council and some Devon districts including East Devon have been given only the minimum amount.” 

‘We were expecting a lot more money’, he [John Hart] says. ‘Our finances are already under pressure for the rest of this year with even more pressure for next year. Therefore with demands on funds I do not think it would be right to consider funding this scheme.’

This may explain why, during the hastily organised visit of the PM to Exeter College on 29th September, Boris Johnson made no “headline” announcement about future local funding for Devon. Not even a re-announcement of an existing commitment. 

The PM was at the college’s vocational training centre to announce plans to allow adults without A-Levels or equivalent qualifications to get a free, fully-funded courses from next April. He then scuttled off.

Significantly, most of the local media were excluded and Simon Jupp was chosen from all the local MPs to keep the prime minister at a safe distance [was this because he was the most junior? – Owl]. This allowed the PM to take advantage of photo opportunities unencumbered by the nuisance of Devon journalists being allowed to question him on his Devon visit.                                                                                                                                       

We also have the revelation from Sasha Swire’s  diary that Hugo was so in with Dave [Cameron] he was the first one Dave called to get drunk with after his defeat. So pally, yet Hugo couldn’t get him to do anything for East Devon. 

 

Extra support to ensure vulnerable children do not go hungry

Devon County Council has answered pleas to try and ensure the neediest children and families do not go hungry.

It comes [after] a petition has been started by East Devon councillor Joe Whibley to Devon County Council calling for the council to provide free school meal vouchers, for those pupils in receipt of term – time free school meals, throughout the school holidays.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

Labour’s plea for the free school meals scheme to be extended over the holidays to stop children going hungry was rejected last week by the Government.

But since then, several councils, including Plymouth City Council, have announced schemes to help during the October half-term.

Eligible families in Plymouth will receive an additional payment over the half-term period to enable them to buy a meal for their children.

And on Monday (October 26), the County Council said it will continue to work with district councils to ensure hardship support is available to vulnerable children and families across the county this winter and pledged extra funding to ensure no child goes hungry.

It follows pleas from Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, as well as a petition, that called for the council to help provide free school meals during the holidays.

Cllr John Hart, Leader of Devon County Council, said: “We have already allocated £1.7 million this year through a shared hardship fund to ensure that the most needy children and families in Devon do not go hungry.

“I have also instructed that the county council holds a further £100,000 in reserve for additional hardship funding this winter.

“Devon is one of the largest local authorities in the country and, at the start of this crisis, we recognised that there would need to be very local solutions, so we’ve worked in close cooperation with our eight district councils as Team Devon throughout the pandemic.

“Devon County Council shared £1 million of its funding between the districts alongside a further £700,000 from the Government. This is currently supporting grants to people and families suffering hardship across Devon.

“Around £600,000 of this is still available and I would urge anyone who needs help providing food for their children to apply for this extra assistance through their district council’s helpline.

“The individual district councils have used the cash in different ways to best help their local communities. For example some have funded the voluntary sector and others have issued vouchers or provided food directly using their helplines as a point of contact.”

Over the weekend, Government Ministers have referred to the £63 million that was allocated to local councils and suggested this was for free school meals, but Cllr Hart said: “This money was distributed in June and was intended to ensure that no one – children or adults – who was badly affected by the pandemic should go hungry. That money has already been spent in Devon in supporting the most vulnerable.

“In addition we have provided support to a range of community organisations to help fund support, wellbeing and food in recent months and we will continue to work with organisations around food sustainability and food insecurity.

“With key partners we have developed comprehensive plans to provide further emergency response for the most vulnerable should parts of Devon experience lockdown or further restrictions.

“I am now writing to the Government to outline that due to our financial position we are limited in our ability to provide this support beyond the spring.

“We therefore urgently call on the Government to properly fund support for all vulnerable people in Devon affected by the financial impacts of the pandemic.

“Meanwhile, I want to pay tribute to the local communities, shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants across Devon that are doing their bit in their locality to provide food for children over this half-term.

“Their efforts can only enhance the work that the county council is continuing to do in partnership with the districts and others.”

Devon’s Liberal Democrats had called for the County Council to reverse its “mean minded” refusal to provide free school meals during the holidays.

The impact of the lockdown and COVID-19 on many families across the county is not of their making and money is increasingly tight, especially for those affected by reduced hours, lost jobs, or furlough arrangements, said Liberal Democrat group leader Cllr Alan Connett.

He added that the issue of holiday hunger was highlighted at County Hall back in the summer of 2018 and since then nothing has changed with no action taken except put a link on the county website to highlight where families might get help – but that link does not work today.

Cllr Connett said: “At a time when Marcus Rashford can be honoured by the Queen for his campaign to tackle hunger in children and more councils across the country are now saying they will help, the best Devon can do is ‘signpost’ to foodbanks, pubs and cafes providing free meals.

“No child should go hungry in Devon, this is another holiday when that is likely to happen in Devon. It’s mean minded.”

Independent councillor Martin Shaw had asked the Leader of Devon County Council to provide school meals for children in need of them during the half-term holiday.

The response given, Cllr Shaw said, was that the demands on funds were too tight to consider funding the scheme.

Cllr Shaw added: “The cost of providing this support at half term and Christmas would not be huge, in the big scheme of things, but there are children in every area of Devon who really need this support.

“Since the Government are not providing free school meals for Devon children who need them this half-term, Seaton community group Re:store Axe Valley has set up a scheme to provide them, with the aim of operating at Christmas too. A crowdfunding page has been set up, which is on course to raise £1,000 and I am urging every resident who can afford it to donate.

“I have given the scheme £1,500 from my County Councillor’s Locality Budget, as I can think of few things more important than ensuring that all children are properly fed during the current crisis.”

It comes a petition has been started by East Devon councillor Joe Whibley to Devon County Council calling for the council to provide free school meal vouchers, for those pupils in receipt of term – time free school meals, throughout the school holidays.

Cllr Whibley said: “The Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend free school meal vouchers to children in need throughout the school holidays was unsuccessful in parliament yet several local councils have decided to take on that cost and responsibility, as have local businesses and charities.

“This petition seeks to urge Devon County Council to do the same thing, and look to cover its costs by lobbying central government to cover the subsequent onward costs.

“No child deserves to go hungry, and we must ensure we do all we can to help local children get fed regularly, term time or not.”

If 6,000 people sign the petition, then under the constitution of the council, it will automatically trigger a debate at the next scheduled full council meeting.

The petition runs until November 24, so if the signatures were reached, then December 3’s full council meeting would see it debated.

UK Government rejects demands to sack Dido Harding as NHS Test and Trace chief

THE UK Government is refusing to sack Dido Harding despite mounting pressure from Tory and opposition critics.

Angus Cochrane www.thenational.scot

The NHS Test and Trace chief is under fire amid accusations the system is failing to stem the spread of coronavirus in England.

The system hit a record low last week with just 59.6% of the contacts of people who tested positive being successfully contacted and told to self-isolate.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis insisted that Harding was doing “a very good job” after one senior Conservative MP called for her to be replaced by a military commander.

However, Labour warned her position was “untenable” as it emerged ministers were considering cutting the time people have to self-isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has the disease because of concerns over public compliance.

At the same time it was reported that Boris Johnson has become “disillusioned” with the data he is receiving from Test and Trace after some of the figures he was given turned out to be inaccurate.

During a round of broadcast interviews, Lewis rejected calls for Harding – a Conservative peer and former TalkTalk chief executive – to be dismissed, although he acknowledged that the service needed to improve.

“What Dido has done is put together and drive forward a team that has come on so much in the last few months,” he told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

“We want to see it improve, we want to see it grow and get better and better. That’s how we fight this virus. But actually I think Dido and the team have done a very good job to get to where we are.”

However, in a scathing attack, senior Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin said there was a “vacuum of leadership” at the top of the organisation and that public consent and co-operation was “breaking down”.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, he said Harding should be given a “well-earned break” so she and others could “reflect on the lessons learned so far” and that a senior military figure should be appointed in her place.

“There is a spaghetti of command and control at the top, which is incapable of coherent analysis, assessment, planning and delivery,” he wrote.

“The immediate priority is to fill the vacuum of leadership in Test and Trace, which is destroying cooperation and compliance.

“Government harnessed the military to regain control in the foot and mouth crisis; the Prime Minister should follow that example today, by installing a single leader, a three or four star military commander with a reputation for handling complexity under stress.”

Appearing on the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Jenkin, who chairs the Liaison Committee of senior MPs which questions the Prime Minister twice a year, insisted his comments about Harding had been meant “kindly” and that she was a “tremendous asset”.

However, he added: “The Test and Trace capability clearly needs to move up several gears and it’s what leadership does, not who leadership is that really matters. It is the sense that there is a lack of an overall strategy which I think is at the heart of the problem.”

For Labour, shadow mental health minister Rosena Allin-Khan said Lady Harding’s position had become “untenable”.

“The Tories are in-fighting because even they can see just how catastrophic the test, trace and isolate system has been,” she told the Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme.

BHS collapse: ‘I was in charge of millions, then I had nothing’

BHS’s collapse and the subsequent demise of firms such as Carillion and Thomas Cook have had a common thread in that the outside accountants hired to check their finances have been criticised.

By Howard Mustoe www.bbc.co.uk 

When then fashion buyer Santosh Kumari was called into the canteen at the offices of BHS more than four years ago to be told she and her colleagues would lose their jobs, the announcement followed plenty of warning signs.

For months before, Santosh says that stock had to be marked down as suppliers hounded the company for payments, later turning down orders because their banks feared that the retailer wouldn’t pay up.

“It was really bizarre because we were all looking for jobs,” she says. “My assistants and I were talking about jobs, where normally you don’t talk to your line manager about going for another job elsewhere.”

When the end came, the business was so bereft of resources that she and other staff were told they would not receive redundancy pay beyond the statutory minimum.

“One day I was flying around the world and in charge of millions of pounds in my department, and the next minute, I have nothing and I’m worried about paying my mortgage.”

BHS’s collapse and the subsequent demise of firms such as Carillion and Thomas Cook have had a common thread in that the outside accountants hired to check their finances have been criticised.

BHS’s auditors, PwC, were fined a record £6.5m after signing off accounts the industry watchdog, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), called “incomplete, inaccurate and misleading” in its report into the aftermath of the collapse.

According to the FRC’s most recent analysis, a third of UK audits are substandard.

Parliament has been scrutinising the audit industry for some time.

In 2011, a report from the House of Lords said: “The audit of large firms, in the UK and internationally, is dominated by an oligopoly with all the dangers that go with that.”

It recommended companies should tender for audit work every five years, and it said that “complacency of bank auditors was a significant contributory factor” to the 2007-08 financial crisis.

Since 2018, three government-commissioned reports have been published about audit reform.

The Kingman review has suggested replacing the current regulator with a stronger one, the Brydon review said auditors should try harder to detect fraud, while one conducted by the competition watchdog, the Competition and Markets Authority, said auditing and consultancy needed to be separate businesses.

Despite all these failings and recommendations, no laws have passed to tighten the rules.

The government insists it knows that reform is needed and has said it “will respond with comprehensive proposals for reform and will then bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

But over the summer the government was criticised by parliament for dragging its feet.

A different approach is suggested by Prem Sikka, a recent entrant into the House of Lords as a Labour peer and a professor in accounting.

“I don’t think it can really be fixed,” he says. “As long as accountancy firms are paid by the companies they audit, and they also then throw in a bit of a consultancy, there is a conflict of interest. Nobody’s going to bite the hand that feeds them.”

He says that the best solution would be to have a state body audit the largest companies, just as HMRC oversees the auditing of tax collection.

“I think it matters, because we rely upon auditors to make corporations publicly accountable. And that matters, not only to investors in the stock market, but also to employees, about the safety of their pension schemes and to creditors.”

He says the public should have access to basic facts about audits such as the size of the audit team, its contract, hourly rates and how long is spent on the work.

While no rules have been changed, not everyone has failed to act.

In the wake of its $1.9bn settlement with US authorities in 2012 over anti money-laundering concerns, global banking giant HSBC hired more internal auditors and compliance workers and set up more rigorous systems.

Part of its plan included hiring consultants with the goal of encouraging a more inquisitive culture at the bank. Employees at the bank were encouraged to ask questions about where money was being made and how.

One of those hired to do the training was Ian Hynes, a former police officer and investigator and now chief executive of training firm Intersol Global, which has trained internal auditors in the art of conducting an effective investigation.

He says while HSBC’s decision to train bankers to do this seems perfectly natural and should be replicated by other businesses, it is hardly the norm among big companies.

“Where we delivered training, a very common theme in the feedback was that they were disappointed that they did not receive the training at the outset of their careers, whatever that career was, whether it was audit or compliance,” he says.

It’s even less the norm among the largest auditors, he says, who have shunned his investigative training.

“It’s been hard work,” he says. “We’ve had little reaction, if any.”

A questioning mindset could have stopped many a scandal, he says.

Auditing “should be seen as an asset that’s valuable, that adds value to the business that helps secure, protect reputations, lives, careers, save the entities’ money”.

His business as a trainer in these skills “has been termed the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, and it frustrates the life out of me that we ended up getting commissioned when the damage is being done.”

Ms Kumari and some former BHS colleagues sued the defunct company’s estate and won after a court found it had broken the law in not providing sufficient consultation over job losses.

“The speed of BHS’s collapse into administration and the announcement of redundancies shortly thereafter left many employees suddenly and unexpectedly out of work,” said her lawyer Carl Moran of SDM Legal.

Ms Kumari, like many others looking for work in the wake of corporate failure, says the blame of the collapse of BHS should lie with its bosses. But she wonders what auditors knew – or could have asked – about the company’s books before the end.

Nice day’s work (if you can get it)

Lords claim £300,000 to take part in Zoom debates from home

LORDS claimed hundreds of thousands in taxpayers’ cash to take part in Zoom debates, a Sun probe has found.

Andy Jehring www.thesun.co.uk 

Peers were paid £300,000 over 15 days of virtual proceedings from their own homes in the April and May lockdown.

A handful of Lords did attend the chamber, but most claims were for remote working.

Lords received £1,254 in car expenses and £350 for public transport, despite the Government urging people to work from home where possible.

Records show Labour’s Lord Foulkes claimed £9 for stamps, despite racking up £2,900 in allowances over both months.

Lord Kilclooney of Northern Ireland — worth around £23million — charged the taxpayer £205 for air travel and £50 for petrol.

And former deputy PM Lord Prescott claimed £71 for postage, but did not attend.

Stay-at-home MPs caused fury earlier this month by going ahead with a £3,500 pay rise.

John O’Connell, of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Taxpayers who are feeling the pinch will be furious at the idea that well-heeled Lords are cashing in on the crisis.

“These allowances are meant to cover the costs of working in Westminster, not to offer peers huge hand-outs at home.”

Government housing formula “does not make sense” say planning groups

Government attempts to reimpose failed Soviet tractor style top-down planning targets on us, using the mutant algorithm, still under fire.

Deadline for responses to the “Planning for the future” White Paper is 23.45 on Thursday 29 October.

www.dezeen.com

Planning reform propose revised algorithm for housing targets

The government’s revised housing formula

The UK government’s proposal to use a mathematical formula to determine where to build 300,000 new homes a year has been criticised by campaigners.

The formula would be used to set a target number of homes to build for each area in England, with the aim of building more housing in less affordable places to increase stock and reduce overall prices.

It represents a change in the existing method of calculating housebuilding targets.

Planning groups voiced concern that using the revised formula, which has been widely described as an algorithm, would mean building more homes in expensive areas in the south while leaving the north underdeveloped.

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) said the formula “does not make sense” and would “risk destroying large areas of countryside”. Local Government Association (LGA) agreed that “algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge”.

Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) added “governing by algorithm doesn’t work”, warning “untested changes to local planning could lead to the worst of all possible worlds”.

Government wants to update existing formula

Earlier this year the UK government held a consultation on its white paper Planning for the Future, which detailed wide-ranging changes that could be made to the planning system to reach a target of 300,000 new homes built every year.

The government currently uses a formula based on predictions of how much growth there will be to determine the number of new homes each of the 343 local authorities is set as a target to build.

Its proposed update to this formula – the consultation document does not use the word algorithm – is one of the changes currently under consultation. It would incorporate affordability of existing homes into the calculations for the first time.

“High house prices indicate a relative imbalance between the supply and demand for new homes, making homes less affordable,” said the consultation paper.

“The affordability of homes is the best evidence that supply is not keeping up with demand.”

Planning groups reject consultation plans

Campaign groups have rejected the formula revisions after running test figures, warning that it could cause uneven distribution of housing targets.

“The new formula would be particularly challenging for places such as London and the south-east where they would be required to build 161 per cent more homes, while the north would actually be required to build 28 per cent fewer homes,” said RTPI head of policy Richard Blyth.

“This simply does not make sense and could risk destroying large areas of countryside in the south, while leaving urban brownfield sites in the north unused,” he added.

LGA said that the new calculation was too prescriptive.

“Under these plans, some parts of the country will have to ramp up housebuilding with existing targets doubled. Others, mainly cities in the north, will be told they need to build less,” said LGA spokesperson David Renard.

“Algorithms and formulas can never be a substitute for local knowledge and decision-making by councils and communities who know their areas best,” added Renard, who is the leader of Swindon council.

“Governing by algorithm doesn’t work”

Using the new formula would force councils in the south to overdevelop the countryside and leave brownfield sites further north undeveloped, argued CPRE.

“It’s clear that governing by algorithm doesn’t work,” said CPRE chief executive Crispin Truman.

“To begin delivering the homes we need at the pace we need them, the government should abandon centralised housing targets and ensure planning remains locally-led with local authorities and communities,” he added.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson heralded the proposed planning system changes as “unlike anything we have seen since the second world war”.

Other potential changes include granting automatic planning permission for developments on land earmarked for growth.

A key factor in England’s housing crisis stems is the gap between the population and available affordable homes. However, a 2019 report from the Centre for Policy Studies highlighted that, on a net basis, every new house built from 2005 to 2015 went to a buy-to-let landlord anyway.