CPRE finds housing algorithm will threaten valued countryside

A gloved hand laying cement between red bricks

1 October 2020

The government’s proposed new housing formula or ‘algorithm’ will fail to deliver the affordable new homes that communities desperately need, analysis from CPRE, the countryside charity has revealed today. Instead, the new formula will allow developers to build hundreds of thousands of poorly located new homes in the countryside threatening locally valued green space and completely undermining government ambitions for urban regeneration.

The government is currently consulting on the largest overhaul of the planning system in over 70 years. Central to this will be changes to the formula that determines local housing need, or housing algorithm, which was introduced in 2014. CPRE analysis has found that the housing algorithm completely misses the mark, delivering huge increases compared to the current formula in rural areas like Cumbria (178% increase) and Cotswold district (148%) with decreases in nearby urban areas of Manchester (-37%), Leicester (-35%) and Gloucester (-12%).

Unaffordable homes

It’s clear the new algorithm could deepen the housing crisis delivering more unaffordable homes in areas based on higher housing prices and not genuine need. Under the new housing algorithm, areas with the sharpest house price rises since the 2009 recession would get the highest number of new homes. CPRE believes this would only deliver bigger profits for developers at the expense of building homes in areas where people can afford to live.

Crispin Truman, chief executive of CPRE, the countryside charity, said: ‘We are in the midst of a housing crisis and need to deliver many more well designed, genuinely affordable homes in the right places, including in rural areas. But our analysis has shown the government’s far reaching and untested changes to local planning could lead to the worst of all possible worlds – gobbling up our countryside without delivering the affordable homes our rural communities are crying out for’.

‘To begin delivering the homes we need at the pace we need them, the government should abandon centralised housing targets and ensure planning remains locally-led with local authorities and communities empowered to have a say in what gets built where. It’s clear that governing by algorithm doesn’t work but the problems with the government’s planning proposals don’t end there. What we need is a major rethink and careful, sensible reform to create a planning system that delivers genuinely affordable homes, protects locally valued green space and countryside, while boosting trust and participation in the planning system of the future.’

In practice, the housing algorithm means that there will be a major uplift in housing in many rural areas while proposed central housing targets for many urban centres would remain flat or decrease. This would significantly undermine efforts to regenerate villages, towns and cities. Areas with the starkest statistics include:

• Cumbria: the predominantly rural county home to the Lake District National Park would see an increase of 178% in housing targets
• Yorkshire and the Humber: rural Richmondshire would see a 933% increase and Scarborough 97% in housing targets
• Gloucestershire: Cotswold (148%), Tewkesbury (84%) and Forest of Dean (64%) all see significant increases while Gloucester sees a 12% decrease in housing targets
• Leicestershire: Leicester would see a decrease of 35% while Blaby (233%) and North West Leicestershire (221%) would see major increases in housing targets
• Hampshire: Basingstoke and Deane would see a decrease of 23% while Havant (118%) and Fareham (96%) would see major increases in housing targets;
• West Midlands: Birmingham would see a decrease of 15%
• Greater Manchester: Manchester would see a decrease of 37%

The shift from urban to rural would undoubtedly put a higher number of green field sites under even greater pressure. With a new zonal planning system potentially giving outline permission for all suitable development sites across huge areas of land, and little or no local discretion intended as to the order in which these sites should be built, it would be almost impossible to prevent developers from cherry-picking green field sites while leaving urban brownfield land unused.

CPRE has raised major concerns about the increased deregulation of planning and is campaigning for a locally led, democratic planning system that protects and enhances green space and ensures we build the well designed and affordable homes that communities desperately need. It is clear the housing algorithm will not tackle the housing crisis or further action to tackle the nature and climate emergencies. That’s why CPRE believes local authorities and communities should be in charge of planning to shape the areas to local needs instead of centrally imposed housing targets.

Notes to editors

Further regional breakdow:n
• Norfolk: Norwich would see a 16% decrease in housing supply while South Norfolk (105%) and Broadland (78%) will see major increases in housing targets
• East of England: Bedford would see a decrease of 12% while South End on Sea (191%) and Central Bedfordshire (174%) increases in housing targets
• Worcestershire: Worcester would see a decrease of 20% while Malvern Hills (181%), Redditch (111 %), Wychavon (130%) would see significant increases in housing targets
• Northamptonshire: Northampton would see a decrease of 35% while Daventry (179%) and East Northamptonshire(80%) would see significant increases in housing targets