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Devon housing algorithm "ludicrous"

More like this on the way (courtesy: Pxhere/LDRS)

Construction may have to double

Councils across Devon have registered their opposition to a "ludicrous" algorithm that could see the number of new homes built each year double.

The government is set to change the method used for calculating the amount of housing each district should provide each year. East Devon could have to build 67 per cent more homes than previously expected, Mid Devon 75 per cent, and Teignbridge 101 per cent.

But some councillors say the figures are "completely unacceptable’" have come from an algorithm that makes no sense, and that they don't think enough people would want to move to the areas to fill this number of houses.

Teignbridge District Council and East Devon District Council so far have agreed to oppose the proposed approach, believing that the numbers are both too great and most likely, undeliverable. Teignbridge’s portfolio holder for planning Cllr Gary Taylor said: “One of the most contentious issues is the suggestion that housing numbers will be based on a nationally set formula where more homes have to be built annually in areas where open market housing is often not affordable to local residents.

“In Teignbridge, the changes mean that our housing requirement could increase by 101% to 1,532 homes, double the current requirement to build 760 houses a year.  This is a figure which I am sure councillors will consider unacceptable.”

Cllr Taylor said that the consultations suggests the annual housebuilding figure could be varied by the availability of land and could be reduced if there was evidence of the lack of suitable space in Teignbridge. He said: "As a Council we will be responding to the consultation, welcoming changes designed to make the planning system more responsive but strongly opposing the housing numbers which will adversely impact on our communities and environment.”

East Devon District Council strategic planning committee also unanimously agreed to adopt their proposed response to oppose the methodology.

Ed Freeman, service lead for planning strategy and development, in his report, said: “The East Devon housing requirement is increased by a massive 67 per cent from 928 dwellings to 1,614 new homes per year. The increase, by any standards, can only be seen as a staggeringly high increase on top of what was a high level anyway.

“It must be seriously questioned whether the number of houses for East Devon, and surrounding areas, even if credible land could be allocated for their development, will actually be built. It must be seriously questioned whether there would be sufficient numbers of people wishing to buy or rent a property in East Devon and surrounding areas to sustain the level of growth the figures imply.

“Short of a massive boon in jobs in our part of England or there being some other compelling reason why people will move here, it is extremely difficult to see anything approaching a market of sufficient size to see these levels of houses built. A move to greater homeworking my generate greater levels of migration to East Devon but the long term levels of migration arising from changes in working practices as a result of the current pandemic are unknown.

“In the case of East Devon, recent research for the council undertaken by the consultancy firm ORS shows that to meet trend based needs there is a need for 757 dwelling a year and to address pent-up demand a need for 59 dwellings a year, giving a total of 816 dwellings per year. Deducting this figure from a district total of 1,614 implies that 798 households would need to move in to East Devon each year over and above established trends.

“This level of increase is simply not a credible prediction and much less so a credible policy response when it comes to planning for housing provision.”

Cllr Mike Allen said that being asked to increase by the numbers in this way was ludicrous. He said: “There is something fundamentally wrong with the algorithm, and it shows no relevance whatsoever to local democracy and reality on the ground.”

Cllr Ian Thomas added, referring to the chaos over exam results, said: “It has not been a good summer for the government and algorithms. To jump by 67 per cent and 102 per cent worries me and it simply isn’t credible. We are dealing with a half cooked algorithm and whipping numbers out of the air is not acceptable.”

Cllr Kevin Blakey said that as developers won’t be keen to develop properties that they can’t sell very quickly, this couldn’t possibly work, while Cllr Eleanor Rylance said that ‘if we don’t resist this, we will cover the West End in housing with no transport infrastructure’.

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