Barcombe, Chailey, Ditchling, East Chiltington, Hamsey, Newick, Plumpton, Ringmer, Streat, Westmeston, Wivelsfield parish councils unite against housing numbers

Ten parish councils have united to call on MP Michael Gove to suspend the ‘Standard Method’ for determining housing need.

Friday, 14th January 2022, 3:46 pm
Updated Friday, 14th January 2022, 6:56 pm
Ten district councils raise concerns about housing targets

In a letter to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental Relations, they say they are deeply concerned about the damaging impact the ‘Standard Method’ for determining a minimum housing need is having on local communities.

They are still waiting for a response to the letter, which was sent last week. It is printed in full below.

Parish Councils of Barcombe, Chailey, Ditchling, East Chiltington, Hamsey,

Newick, Plumpton, Ringmer, Streat, Westmeston, Wivelsfield,

The Rt Hon Michael Gove, MP.

Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Minister for Intergovernmental

Relations, House of Commons, LONDON SW1A 0AA.

Dear Secretary of State,

This letter represents parish councils of the Low Weald within Lewes District Council in East Sussex. The

Low Weald is predominantly rural and agricultural, much of which is either within or adjoins the South

Downs National Park and is typified by ageing and inadequate infrastructure with a high reliance on car

transport. The following will be of no surprise to you, mirroring concerns that we know have been raised

by other districts in the Southeast, but we are grateful for your time in reviewing it.

In common with many areas of the country we are not against development and many parishes invested

considerable time in developing Neighbourhood Plans in alignment with the local plan to address the

development needs of Lewes District. Changes to the NPPF made in 2018/19 have put those plans under

threat and have emboldened developers to make speculative planning applications that are now putting

hundreds of acres of green fields in the English countryside under threat and risking the sustainability of

our rural communities.

Defending against unnecessary development consumes almost all our parish councillor time which we

consider would better be spent addressing other local priorities. The root cause of the issue is the

Standard Method and its impact on 5-year housing supply.

The Lewes local plan was approved by the Planning Inspectorate based on an average supply of 345

dwellings per annum which paragraph 6.19 summarises as " is considered to be the level of housing growth

that most appropriately balances the objective of meeting housing needs with the aims of achieving

sustainable development and sustainable communities.”

Now, 5 years into a district plan that should have provided certainty until 2030, and despite your ministry

assessing delivery at 100% in the latest 2020 figures, the Standard Method increases 345 dwellings per

annum to a minimum of 782, providing the rationale for developers to propose building on multiple new

green field sites across the district. That is despite almost 2000 unbuilt permissions across the district.

You are no doubt now already aware that the Standard Method is flawed by its use of 2014 ONS

population figures which overstate the target, and by the perverse and indiscriminate affordability factor.

This mechanism appears to act in direct contradiction to the levelling up agenda by creating a housing

target for areas like Lewes that acts not to meet local need but predominantly allows developers to

maximise profit and simply provides the supply for commuters from urban brownfield settings to move

into the greenfield countryside.

The Prime Minister used his major Conservative Party Conference speech to make a firm commitment to

protect our green spaces from unscrupulous development, as well as signalling a brownfield-first approach

to new building. However current planning policy does just the opposite, and unless there is a radical change

in policy, we are all at the mercy of opportunistic developers. Current policy does nothing to support the

government's levelling up agenda nor its environmental objectives, including the 2050 net gain target and

measures in the Environment Bill.

We need immediate action to stop speculative planning applications that ignore democratically decided

local plans and exploit the tilted balance created by the 2018/19 NPPF revisions.

We would urge you to act decisively to:

• suspend with immediate effect the current version of the Standard Method for all districts that

have a local development plan in place. That would provide the breathing space to facilitate your

review of the planning system and establish a true measure of ‘objectively assessed need’ as the

basis for refreshing district plans with local democratic support. As part of that review:

• Revise the method to use the most up to date evidence data

• Revise the “affordability factor” to meet objectively assessed need rather than simply increasing

housing targets in the most profitable areas, therefore enabling the governments ‘levelling up’

agenda.

These measures would allow the fundamental NPPF principle set out in paragraph 15 to be met, namely

that “The planning system should be genuinely plan-led. Succinct and up-to-date plans should provide a

positive vision for the future of each area; a framework for addressing housing needs and other economic,

social and environmental priorities; and a platform for local people to shape their surroundings.”

They would also deliver on your party’s stated commitments to

• Prioritise brownfield sites

• Regenerate cities to create a sense of community and make city centres thrive.

• Protect our green spaces

The heart of any decision-making process should be based upon the wellbeing of our future generations

and protection of our green spaces. As Boris Johnson stated, “Britain’s iconic landscapes are part of the

fabric of our national identity - sustaining our communities, driving local economies and inspiring people

across the ages... it’s more important than ever that we act now to enhance our natural environment and

protect our precious wildlife and biodiversity.”

We are relying on you to take the right action and create honourable outcomes that serve the country we

live in and would very much welcome the opportunity of having a meeting with you to discuss our

concerns further.