2 How many houses are needed in
the South East?|
4. The setting of average annual targets for
future house building has been a contentious issue in successive
regional plans for the South East Region. These targets were debated
at length at the Public Examination of the most recent South East
at an 'agreed' target of 32,700 net additional dwelling per annum
between 2006 and 2026. Since these debates took place alternative
and higher estimates of housing need have emerged in advice from
both the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit (NHPAU) and
in Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) publications.
Some local authorities and environmental bodies, on the other
hand, have suggested that planned rates of house building might
be already be set too high in view of environmental constraints
in the region.
Future house building rates
5. NHPAU, told us that the number of households
in the South East was expected to grow a quarter as fast again
in the next 25 years as it grew in the last 25 years, due to a
range of factors such as people living longer and more people
living alone or in smaller households, higher birth rates and
continued net in-migration. Its advice states that regional plans
for the South East should consider a range of between 38,000 and
53,800 new dwellings a year on average between 2008 and 2031a
total of between 874,000 and 1.24 million additional homes.
The lower figure of the range is the number of dwellings that
would be needed to accommodate the projected increase in householdsDCLG
projections indicated that the number of households in the South
East Region would increase by some 28% between 2006 and 2031,
at an annual rate of change of 39,000.
The higher rate, it suggests, would be needed in order to tackle
the problem of unmet need, second homes and vacancies in new supply
and to stabilise affordability at no worse than levels experienced
6. By contrast the South East Plan, published
in May 2009, proposes a building rate of 32,700 net additional
dwelling per annum between 2006 and 2026a total of 654,000
over the twenty year period. That is, however, some 3,800 dwellings
per annum higher than the house building rate proposed in the
draft plan put forward by the South East England Regional Assembly.
The official figure of 32,700 is the annual house building rate
that local authorities in the region are currently working towards
in preparing Local Development Frameworksthe figure is
disaggregated into targets for individual sub-regions and local
authorities in the region.
7. The Home Builders Federation told us in its
evidence that it supported higher rates of house building than
provided for in the South East Plan stating that "the figure
in the South East Plan should be higher than that finally decided
upon by the Secretary of State in order to ensure that it properly
reflects the demographic need of the region as set out by the
Government's own National Housing and Planning Advisory Unit (NHPAU)".
8. SEEPB and The Campaign to Protect Rural England
(CPRE) both indicated to us that targets for housing target numbers
as currently used were not always the most appropriate way of
providing for future housing need. In its evidence SEEPB pointed
Local Authority experience suggests that centrally
driven targets for housing numbers will ultimately become an end
in itself. They are not the most appropriate way of ensuring that
the right house is provided in the right location
any review of the housing numbers set out in the South East Plan
must be done through its work on the regional strategy.
9. CPRE suggests that "housing demand in
the South East is almost limitless and any attempt to satisfy
demand could mean unacceptable damage to the environment and countryside".
It told us that housing targets in spatial strategies should be
replaced by a range of possible figures which should be tested
locally as well as at the regional scale.
10. Evidence from local authorities revealed
some widely different attitudes to housing numbers. Oxford City
Council, in its evidence, supports an annual target of 39,000,
higher than the South East Plan target. Hampshire County Council
however says that although it was currently exceeding the South
East Plan delivery targets it could not be assumed that it was
capable of accepting more housing on an indefinite basis.
11. The NHPAU has asked for an objective debate
about the number of houses to be built in the region. It argued
that there was a need to have an informed, objective debate, underpinned
by evidence about the number of homes that needed to be planned
for. The choice in the region was not between increasing housing
supply or continuing at current build levels: "the real choice
is whether we plan for the houses needed, so that people are decently
housed, or we plan for the social and economic consequences of
persistent and increasingly severe undersupply".
12. SEEPB told us that the NHPAU targets would
be one of many considerations to take into account in reviewing
the South East Plan. However, they argued that other factors across
the region also need to be taken into account: "not least
the capacity of the infrastructure to accommodate growth and the
capacity of the industry to deliver a certain level of housing."There
were also "overriding factors" associated with the implications
for the quality of the environment and the landscape such as the
issues of flood risk and flood defence, "given that a significant
part of our region consists of areas of coastal development."
Recent rates of house building
13. Data on house building rates are published
quarterly by DCLG, and statistics on completions are also compiled
by SEEPB from local authority monitoring reports. A recently published
DCLG report shows house building reaching a peak at about 32,000
per annum in 2007-08 with rates before and after somewhat less
than the South East Plan target figure of 32,700.
1: House completions 1997/98 to 2007/08
House Building, September Quarter 2009: England.
14. Evidence from the SEEPB and the Government
Office for the South East (GOSE), based on local authority monitoring
reports, pointed to higher rates of house building in the pre-recession
period34,560 in 2006-07 and 35,400 in 2007-08. In oral
evidence, Mr Laxton, Head of Service for Housing and Planning,
GOSE, explained that the monitoring report figures were higher
because they are compiled differently and include conversions
and changes of use.
There is agreement amongst those giving evidence that housing
starts have fallen significantly in recent years, by as much
as a half of those achieved during peak years.
This will result in many fewer houses being completed in coming
years than are needed in the region. SEEPB in its oral evidence
told us that:
The evidence available for starts on site shows that
we are running about 50% down on what we were two or three years
ago. In the last quarter, of autumn 2009, about 5,180 homes started
on site; that is roughly 50% down on two years before that. We've
seen that pattern consistently now for two, two and a half years.
Taking that through to completion, one would expect to see a drop-off
in housing completion figures for this current financial year
and the next.
15. SEEPB warned of unintended consequences in
pursuing targets set out in the South East Plan. It argued that
to maintain momentum with delivery, local authorities could be
forced to accept sub-optimal schemes in terms of location or quality
because they were the ones that were financially viable.
In the current circumstances there is an increased
risk that the desire to maintain housing outputs at all costs
might over ride broader policy objectives. Whilst the importance
of maintaining output is acknowledged there is a need to avoid
creating a supply of permissions that is ultimately inconsistent
with the agreed policy framework.
16. Some organisations giving evidence to us
questioned whether centrally imposed targets represented the best
way forward to plan for future housing development. It was suggested
that the focus should be shifted to building the right kind of
houses rather than focusing on the numbers built, with particular
concerns evident about affordable housing and family-sized homes.
We also heard persuasive arguments that the amount of house building
planned for should take more account of local circumstances and
environmental limits in both rural and urban areas. Despite such
arguments, we concluded that it was difficult to see how the supply
of housing could be adequately planned and monitored without some
benchmark against which progress could be measured. We
recommend that annual targets be retained as a key performance
target, since they provide a useful benchmark, provided that they
are reviewed on a regular basis and recognised as averages that
will not necessarily be met every year. In disaggregating the
regional target to local authority areas varying local circumstances
must necessarily be taken into account, but some regional oversight
is necessary still to ensure that local areas address such variability
in consistent ways. We acknowledge that opportunities for future
house building should continue to be limited in the more environmentally
sensitive parts of the region and in coastal areas and that more
work be put into identifying these areas at a regional level.
17. Long-term average targets for house building
are clearly going to be subject to review as new data become available.
Current projections of population growth and household formation
suggest that the target building rate in the South East Plan of
32,700 houses per annum will be insufficient to satisfy the region's
need for houses. SEEPB acknowledges that recent projections by
NHPAU will be a factor that is taken into account in reviewing
the plan. We recommend that
SEEPB and GOSE take full account of the higher house building
targets suggested by the NHPAU projections as a matter of urgency
and be prepared to revise their target upwards.
5 Government Office for the South East, The South
East Plan: Regional Spatial Strategy for the South East of England,
London, The Stationery Office, May 2009 Back
NHPAU, More homes for more people: advice to Ministers on housing
levels to be considered in regional plans, July 2009. Available
from: http://www.communities.gov.uk/ Back
Department for Communities and Local Government, Household
Projections to 2031: England. London, 2009 Back
Ev 75 Back
Ev 75 Back
Ev 108 Back
Ev 51 Back
Ev 75 Back
Q 73 [Mr Tugwell] Back
Department for Communities and Local Government, House Building,
September Quarter 2009 England Back
Q 91 [Mr Laxton] Back
Q 69 [Mr Tugwell] Back
Ev 108 Back