Lewes is only East Sussex council to pass government’s housing delivery test

Only one local authority in East Sussex has avoided continued government sanctions on new housebuilding.  

Published last week, the government’s latest housing delivery test figures show four out of the five local planning authorities in the county failed to deliver the housing required in the three years up to March 2021.

Only Lewes District Council achieved its three-year target, building 825 new homes against a 709-home requirement. 

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All of the other authorities — Eastbourne Borough Council, Hastings Borough Council, Rother District Council and Wealden District Council — fell short of their targets and will continue to face sanctions as a result.

Lewes District Council offices, Southover House SUS-210823-125236001

Eastbourne, Hastings and Rother all fell below 75 per cent of their target and, as a result, will need to continue to apply a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ when making planning decisions. 

Wealden, which achieved 83 per cent of its target, faces a lesser sanction, being required to apply a ‘buffer’ on top of their five-year housing land supply.

The result is much the same, however, as the council cannot currently demonstrate a five-year housing land supply, so must also apply a presumption in favour in its planning decisions.

All the councils achieved similar results last year, meaning no new sanctions have been put in place as a result of the test.

While the results of the test are not disputed, many of the councils say the figures show the government’s housing targets are flawed. 

Even Lewes District Council, which achieved and exceeded its requirement again this year, criticised the government’s targets for being ‘unrealistic’.

A Lewes District Council spokesman said: “Using the government’s standard method for calculating the number of homes that should be built in the Lewes district each year, the figure has more than doubled from 275 to 782. 

“We do not agree with the government’s assessment, as we believe it is unrealistic and fails to consider the real capacity of the district for new homes.  However, our scope to challenge the government’s figure is limited. 

“The only option we have is to demonstrate through our exhaustive preparation of the new Local Plan that a lower figure should be accepted. 

“We are also doing all we can to address the acute shortage of genuinely affordable council homes by bringing forward new developments ourselves.”  

Wealden (which built 2,618 new houses against a target of 3,179) also challenged the fairness of the test, pointing out that it had approved many more houses than had actually been built by developers. 

A spokesman for the council said: “Despite the government ‘relaxing’ the target to allow for the pandemic, our requirement across the three year period went up from 2,862 to 3,179 – an 11 per cent rise.  

“However for the 2021 HDT three year period, the construction industry chose to only build 2,618 homes, despite us having a bank of planning consents of more than 7,500 homes. 

“This leaves us with a Housing Delivery Test result of 82 per cent, requiring us to apply a ‘buffer’ – an extra 15 per cent to our housing requirement over the next five years.

“The council continues to lobby government to reduce our government imposed housing requirement to suitable levels, taking account of up-to-date housing need in the area.

“We remain deeply concerned about the use of 2014 demographic projections, not the more recent and much lower 2018 projections and with the so-called ‘affordability uplift’. 

“We also want government to ensure that all the homes that we have granted consent for count towards our forward targets, regardless of when they are delivered.”