Commons briefing offers glimmer of hope on housing targets

A “glimmer of hope” that Southend may be able to reduce its 23,500 target for house building over the next 20 years has emerged.

Southend Council is currently running a public consultation on its new local plan, which sets out homes and job growth over the next two decades.

Controversially, green belt land at Bournes Green Chase in Shoebury has been identified as possibly suitable for up to 5,000 new homes.

The Government, which aims to build 300,000 homes a year across the country, says targets can be reduced by local land “constraints” and it specifically cites green belt.

A briefing published for the House of Commons Library on August 27, Calculating Housing Need in the Planning System, said: “The local housing need number is not binding and is not an end to the process; it is a beginning point from which local authorities can then identify constraints, if they have them, or opportunities, if they want them, to build fewer or more homes than their target local housing need. The green belt is one example that local authorities can use as a constraint on building.”

If the council successfully argues there is a constraint on building on Bournes Green, the borough may be able to reduce its target by 5,000.

Conservative opposition councillors have been at odds with the current administration over the need to even include green belt at this stage of the local plan.

Councillor Tony Cox, leader of the Tory group, said: “The Government do not set housing targets. Only councils do. Yes, there has to be a Local Plan by 2023 but there is a process which has to be followed.

“Firstly, the Government uses a formula based on houses built and house prices in an area to get a starting point of housing need. Then, there is a look at availability of land which includes a “call to arms” from land owners to see where future homes could be built.

“A housing target is set based on availability of land including any restrictions which an authority wants to place in certain areas. Green belt and national parks are explicitly mentioned.

“So this can only be a political decision to go out to consultation on the preferred option of building on the green belt.”

Carole Mulroney, councillor responsible for Environment, Culture, Tourism & Planning, said there was a small chance Southend’s housing target could be reduced.

She said: “Yes, you can take constraints into account but not at this stage. At the moment we have to look at all possible options. We have to look at everywhere that could possibly be built on.

“This site has come from a landowner not the council. Yes, you can reject it, but you have to have very sound reasons. It is out to consultation and if everyone comes back with an out and out rejection, as I believe they will, we have a justification not to build.

“If the inspector says we haven’t looked at a site or doesn’t agree with why we have rejected a site he can overturn it, as has happened elsewhere. There is a glimmer of hope but there can’t be a glimmer of hope if we don’t show evidence.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter