Planning matters

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As the initial flurry of analysis of the implications of the Government’s ‘Planning for the right homes in the right places: consultation proposals’[1] settles, there is time to review the content of the proposals and digest what it might mean for the north and more specifically to the north east – my particular area of interest being based in the North East. When a Council prepares a new Local Plan, the most controversial issue is almost always the number of homes to be built. The existing Planning Practice Guidance (PPG) provides a flexible approach to understanding local housing needs to enable Council’s to choose their own strategies. However, in reality this has meant that there is a great deal of room for debate when a draft Local Plan is tested at Examination. As someone who deals with OAN debates on a regular basis, I agree that the process would benefit from a clearer approach which is more transparent and accessible to non-specialists, including the local community. However, the devil is always in the detail and in developing a methodology (and associated policy and guidance) which can be applied nationally, the Government will clearly need to ensure that; a) The needs assessments it generates are realistically deliverable; b) It helps to address the housing crisis and driver higher levels of housing completions; and c) It does not undermine regional strategies focussed upon economic growth objectives e.g. Northern Powerhouse. Across the North the Government’s proposed approach would mean a 24% per annum reduction when compared to the current assessments of housing need. In the North East this would result in a 20% decrease annually. The consultation does recognise the figures are a starting point and that local authorities have the opportunity to make an uplift beyond these indicative numbers. Figure 1 Government indicative housing need against current local assessment of need Source: Government Data/Lichfields Analysis The North East has tended to be a region that recognised the importance of building more homes. So, if this decrease was simply accepted by Councils as the end point for plans – rather than, as Government indicates, the start point - it would clearly be counter-intuitive. The difference between the Government identified numbers and current OAN reflects the very different underlying assumptions: Government figures are based one 2014-based demographic projections (plus an uplift for affordability) which simply project forward past trends; and Current OANs are largely economic-led, reflecting the need to increase jobs and attract and retain skilled workers. Because housing delivery is intrinsically linked to economic growth, the new approach could constrain the economic growth ambitions of North Eastern authorities and in some cases actually lead to decline if local authorities in the region fail to think beyond the methodology alone. For example, in Sunderland if the Government’s methodology is used the labour force could reduce by almost 1,500 over 10 years as opposed to the 2,500 increase needed to support the economic strategy underpinning the emerging Local Plan. In order for the North East to achieve its economic ambition there is a need to retain and attract workers and that is intrinsically linked to the quality of place on offer, which of course includes housing. Recent analysis of the net flow of migrants to London highlights County Durham experienced a significant net outflow between 2013 and 2016. Without an ambitious economic growth strategy and the housing to support it, there is likely to be a continued loss of population to the South, particularly of educated and skilled younger people. This is an unsustainable position and runs counter to what the Government is trying to achieve through the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Figure 2 Net migration flows to London Source: twitter @election_data The Government proposals do provide some ‘hooks’ for ambitious local authorities who want to deliver more homes (paragraphs 28 and 46 of the consultation). However, there is little in the way of the detail needed to ensure that local authorities feel confident to pursue a housing number in excess of that provided through the standard methodology. This is an area requiring more thought and incentives. Without this additional detail and clarity, there is a risk that local authorities may shy away from delivering the housing needed to support their economic aspirations. Sticking to the levels identified under the Government’s standard methodology could result in a level of housing which is more palatable to local communities and avoids the challenges associated with identifying extra housing sites. However, it would fail to deliver the economic growth ambitions for the North East. There are also significant economic benefits which are generated through housing delivery. In addition to the direct jobs created in the construction of houses, new residents spend money resulting in increased jobs and local authority revenue through Council Tax. The impact of this is increased revenue funding for local authorities to invest in communities and help support wider investment programmes. The Government’s proposals raise key issues which will require careful thought to ensure that the revised guidance supports the increase in housebuilding in the North East and across England by providing the incentives for local authorities to deliver housing beyond the minimum identified within the proposals.   [1] https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-right-homes-in-the-right-places-consultation-proposalsLichfields has prepared an Insight Focus which summarises and provides comment on the proposed housing need methodology http://lichfields.uk/media/3326/housing-need_sep-2017.pdf  

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Carepacity – making the case for care homes, and retirement and sheltered housing for the older population
I recently presented at Lichfields' Newcastle Breakfast Seminar on the topic of elderly care accommodation. Or, as I have seen termed elsewhere, accommodation for those in their “extended middle age!”. The older population, elderly people, those in their extended middle age, however termed, is growing. Indeed, the number of people aged 65 or over in England is projected to increase more than any other age cohort in future years. Figure 1: Population projections by age cohort, England (2014=100) Source: ONS, Lichfields analysis As previously reported by Lichfields, this projection has wide-ranging implications as the country’s demographic profile is the foundation on which public finances are determined and major policy decisions are made. Another of the key implications of the population profile changing so markedly is that housing needs will change too. In the same way that national policy is clear that local planning authorities (LPAs) must meet the housing needs of their local area, both for market and affordable housing (NPPF para 47), national policy is also clear that LPAs must meet the housing needs of different population groups, including older people (NPPF para 159). However, whilst the focus has been on building more houses in general (and rightly so), interventions have largely been concentrated on those at the start of their “housing career” (such as Starter Homes, First Time Buyer ISAs and so on). Significantly less focus has been placed on those in the later stages of their so-called “housing career”. This is evident from the Housing White Paper[1] which, in seeking to “fix our broken housing market” sets out some key targets, including: 225,000+ new homes to be provided per year (pg 9) 200,000 people brought into home ownership (para 4.21) 225,000 affordable homes to be built (para 4.26). Yet there is no such target for meeting the needs of the older population. Rather, the Housing White Paper simply defers the issue, setting out the following: Offering older people a better choice of accommodation can help them to live independently for longer and help reduce costs to the social care and health systems. […] To ensure that there is more consistent delivery of accessible housing, the Government is introducing a new statutory duty through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill on the Secretary of State to produce guidance for local planning authorities on how their local development documents should meet the housing needs of older and disabled people. Para 4.42. Whilst not tackling the issue head on, what the Housing White Paper does is reiterate the thrust of the NPPF - now in its fifth year – i.e. that LPAs are expected to have clear policies for addressing the housing needs and requirements of different groups, including older people. That said, some clear recognition of the severity of the current situation and an emphasis on the urgency required in introducing measures to start to address it would have been welcome. This begs the question: do LPAs currently have clear policies for addressing the housing needs and requirements of older people? And in short, the answer is no. Lichfields has analysed the 99 post-NPPF adopted Local Plans identified in its Planned and Deliver Of these: 29 do not have a generic elderly persons’ accommodation policy; 88 do not have a specific requirement for elderly accommodation; and 94 do not make specific allocations. It’s a ticking time bomb. As an industry, in both public and private sectors, we need to ensure that we understand, through robust evidence, what the housing need is for the growing ageing population. Alongside this, we need to understand what supply is currently available. Only then can we formulate clear strategies on how the residual need could be met. To help evidence the need and in order to understand the opportunities to deliver housing for the ageing population, Lichfields has produced its Carepacity Toolkit. Carepacity can assist in the planning process by: objectively assessing the need for housing for older people and finding potential development sites; understanding existing supply; assessing the potential of development sites; supporting the planning case by quantifying the range of benefits arising from the development of housing to meet the needs of the ageing population; and enabling delivery through an understanding of the planning and financial implications of different typologies of elderly care provision, as summarised below. Figure 2: Typologies of accommodation Source: Lichfields analysis To discuss Carepacity further, please get in touch: nye@lichfields.uk   [1] Department for Communities and Local Government - Fixing our broken housing market (February 2017)

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