Worthing’s political leaders hit out at ‘unrealistic’ housing targets

Worthing Borough Council has missed its housebuilding target, but its leader has called the targets ‘unrealistic’.

The planning authority delivered just 35 per cent of its housebuilding target, according to the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities – the second worst result in Sussex. 

Figures come from the Housing Delivery Test, or HDT, which show how local authorities are performing against housing ‘demand’.

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In the three years to March 2021, Worthing Borough Council delivered 784 homes but its target was 2,268.

Aerial view of Worthing

This is compared to 1,188 houses, or 52 per cent, delivered in the three years to March 2020.

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 decisions will have to be considered for approval by the council – so long as they are considered ‘sustainable’ and the benefits of such developments outweigh any detrimental impacts. 

Teville Gate is one of Worthing's biggest development opportunities

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

It 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 when making planning decisions. 

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

The council’s Conservative council leader Kevin Jenkins called the targets ‘unrealistic’ and a ‘threat to green spaces’.

“We have always said these housing targets are unfair on places like Worthing and others on the South Coast,” he said.

“We are hemmed in by the sea and the South Downs and there simply isn’t the space to build this amount of new homes.

“I’m angry that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities refuses to see sense on this issue.

“It imposes completely unrealistic targets on us and then, when we can’t reach them, ties one hand behind our back when we seek to control development by weakening our planning powers.”

Mr Jenkins said the council is focusing on brownfield sites, such as Teville Gate and Union Place, to provide housing.

But he claimed that building ‘on the few open spaces we have left’ would be required to meet housing targets.

“We are not prepared to do that,” he said.

Worthing West MP Sir Peter Bottomley agreed with the council leader.

“It is wrong to make Worthing look like Hove or Brighton,” he said.

“I shall continue to explain to housing ministers the facts of life: Worthing is placed between two no-build areas – the South Downs National Park and the sea.

“The green spaces to the west of Worthing must not be concreted over: they maintain the character and distinction of Goring by Sea, Ferring and Highdown.

“The targets are unrealistic; central government is too controlling and often contradictory.”

Emma Taylor (Lab, Heene), shadow executive member for housing at WBC, said that the council’s Labour group is ‘committed to meeting the housing needs of those on our waiting list’ and ‘not catering to the demand of investors wanting to buy up swathes of new-build flats by the sea’.

“We could build the number of homes required to meet these targets,” she said, “but what is the point if no one on our housing list is able to access them?

“It would be like building hospitals but not having the nurses to staff them, it will not meet the need.

“Whilst I am happy to hear that the current leader of the council shares some of our concerns and is ‘angry that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities refuses to see sense on this issue’ I am perplexed as this is the very same government that councillor Jenkins serves under and campaigns for in election periods.”

Leader of WBC’s Lib Dem group, Hazel Thorpe (Tarring), said the housing targets have ‘no regard to local needs and circumstances’.

“We have a great need in Worthing  for quality housing which is not only affordable to rent or buy, but is accessible to all, and economically sustainable to run in the longer term,” she said.

“We firmly believe that the government and the council, both of the same political persuasion, must find creative solutions to balance the lack of homes and other planning needs – to make Worthing the place to live, relax and work.

“We suggest that a start would be to scrap the latest Planning Bill, which has an emphasis on developers interests and profits, rather than the public needs.”

How does house building in Worthing compare to other areas?

Neighbouring planning authorities Adur District Council and Arun District Council delivered 77 per cent and 65 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.