As someone who welcomes the end of much regional government in general, and the termination of regional plans and top down housing targets in particular, it is time to ask how should Councils use their freedom?
Councillors under the new regime can set their own policy. Of course it needs to be well based on objective considerations. I suggest a way of deriving a sensible housing target figure below for an area which has faced a lot of recent development and feels under too much pressure:
Introduce or strengthen the Green Belt and green gaps between settlements policy. Councillors can define the areas of our landscape that need to be kept free of new development to preserve the structure of settlements.
Have a policy of not building on floodplain. Some of the worst government Inspector decisions of recent years entailed building on areas subject to flooding, with bad results as we have seen. The Environment Agency would welcome a tougher approach to protecting floodplain.
Revise the density targets to reflect the suburban and rural style of most areas. Authorities outside main towns and cities should not be building at central urban densities.
Ensure sufficient land is demarked for leisure and recreation use.
Protect higher grade agricultural land for farming
Put in an infrastructure link – you could say that substantial new settlement construction needs investment in new highway and schools capacity to make it successful. Planning permission would not be granted for such development until contracts have been exchanged and the money found to build the infrastructure needed.
When your planners have included all these priorities into your plan or map, you can then see how much land remains which might be considered for housing. Then you can consider “housing need”. The past practise of expensive surveys asking each of us if we have people in our households who might want to form a new household in the years ahead is not a good way to identify local housing need. Housing need should be related to employment growth and decisions on commercial and industrial space locally. You can then calculate both how much housing you might “need” and how much space remains after the other policy requirements for land use.
For Councils that welcome more development and wish to encourage growth they can design a strategy which identifies more land for development and offers full collaboration by directing their capital spend to support the chosen areas for growth. Even Councils that wish to be mroe restrictive will probably have preferred areas for growth and brownfield sites for redevelopment.