Arun district ‘set up to fail’ as it misses housebuilding target

Arun District Council has missed its housebuilding target according to figures released this month and the council leader has blamed the previous administration.

The council – which has responsibility for planning – delivered 65 per cent of its housing target according to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Figures come from the Housing Delivery Test, or HDT, which shows how local authorities are performing against government targets.

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In the three years to March 2021, Arun DC delivered 1,872 homes but its target was to deliver 2,891 during this period.

New housing being built in Littlehampton (Google Maps - Street View)

In the three years to March 2020, ADC delivered 61 per cent of its target.

It is one of 50 English local authorities which delivered less than 75 per cent of their housing requirement during the same period.

As a consequence, all future planning applications will have to be considered for approval by ADC so long as they are considered ‘sustainable’ and the benefits of such developments outweigh any detrimental impacts. 

This is known as the ‘tilted balance’ and is a part of national planning policy.

The situation is considered as the ‘ultimate consequence’ of failing the Housing Delivery Test, according to the Local Government Association (LGA), and gives the council less flexibility in planning decisions. 

For example, ADC could open itself up to appeals from developers if it turns down proposals.

A council spokesperson said: “The council has already published an action plan (first published in 2019) and an interim housing statement (January 2021).

“Both of which seek to increase the supply of housing within the limited actions that Arun District Council can influence.

“Whilst there has been an increase in planning permissions in recent years, housing completions have not sent the same increase.

“The housing requirements in Arun are significant and it will take a substantial change in delivery rates for these to be met.”

‘The planning system was struggling’

Council leader Shaun Gunner (Con, Rustington East) said he ‘shared the frustrations of residents’ and blamed the previous Lib Dem administration.

“Under the previous Liberal Democrat-led administration we found that the planning system was struggling,” he said.

“An independent report [the Hannaby Review] was commissioned which said, amongst other things, ‘It is clear from the findings of this review that the planning service has an uphill journey to overcome the various difficulties and shortcomings that have been identified’.

“This is one of the first things I had to deal with when I became leader.

“I am leading an administration that is trying to clear up the mess we inherited and officers – under our new CEO – are working towards improving the situation.”

But council opposition leader Dr James Walsh (LDem, Beach) blamed what he called a ‘flawed’ Arun Local Plan and developers for the council’s inadequate housing delivery.

“The Tories took 11 years to produce their flawed local plan,” he said.

“During that time the government almost doubled our new house targets across the district, leading to several unsuitable sites being included in the plan (subject to flooding, over expanding villages, inadequate sewerage etc).

“In addition, we have a growing water shortage, and poor infrastructure in primary medical care, school provision, local and regional roads, buses and trains.”

Dr Walsh claimed that developers ‘have hundreds of undelivered approved planning applications’ – a number that officers said was closer to 6,000 during a planning policy committee meeting on Tuesday (25 January).

“Because they are slow to deliver, expecting higher profits the longer they delay, the council and residents get penalised by government, who then further increase the housing delivery targets, in a vicious circle with the developers having the whip hand,” added Dr Walsh.

“In addition, too many of the new homes are not for local young people, but 3- 4 bedroom executive houses for incomers to the district, who then commute some distances out of Arun to their workplaces.”

The leader of the council’s independent group Tony Dixon (Aldwick East) said ‘the entire district’ was being ‘punished’ due to a local plan he says was ‘never viable’.

“The Independent Group has consistently argued that the Arun Local Plan is not, and never was, viable,” he said.

“We have pointed this out in letters to the Secretary of State.

“The government should hold to account those responsible for this catastrophic failure – that means politicians, officers and the planning inspector.

“It is unfair to punish the entire district.”

‘We are being set up to fail’

Councillors hit out at the housing targets during the planning policy committee meeting.

Martin Lury (LDem, Bersted) said the council was being ‘set up to fail’.

“I feel sorry for any authority faced with these statistics because I’m afraid they’re painful,” he said.

“The more we can use brownfield sites, the less we keep having to tear up our fields.”

Hugh Coster (Ind, Aldwick East) called for a report to be commissioned into Arun’s missed housing targets.

He said: “Our assessment of deliverability is not working and I think we need to be a lot more rigorous.

“We need to know why we are failing.”

However, planning committee chair Terence Chapman (Con, East Preston) said developers face ‘a great deal of economic uncertainty’.

“I think we can be some overly simplistic about what is a dynamic market,” he said.

“People want houses to live in, the developers on the other hand face the need to make profit to stay in business.

“There’s nothing wrong with the word ‘profit’ – it is what drives commerce and industry and drives life generally. 

“What it amounts to though, is a very, very complex situation and it doesn’t just affect us.”

How does Arun’s house building compare to other areas?

Neighbouring planning authorities Adur District Council and Worthing Borough Council delivered 77 per cent and 35 per cent of their targets respectively.

Results for the rest of Sussex show how other local authorities fared:

Brighton & Hove City Council – 136 per cent

Chichester District Council – 136 per cent

Crawley Borough Council – 406 per cent

Eastbourne Borough Council – 32 per cent

Hastings Borough Council – 42 per cent

Horsham District Council – 147 per cent

Lewes District Council – 116 per cent

Mid Sussex District Council – 124 per cent

Rother District Council – 157 per cent

Wealden District Council – 82 per cent

What is the Housing Delivery Test and how are house building targets decided?

The Housing Delivery Test or HDT is carried out annually and measures housebuilding progress made by each local planning authority.

This is then compared to government house building targets for each area which take into account local housing need and whether or not the council has an up-to-date local plan.

Results for the 2020-2021 financial year were calculated slightly differently due to the impact of the pandemic on house building. 

In the three years to March 2021, three quarters of all local authorities met 95 per cent of their targets – delivering a total of 578,000 homes.