I met the Leader of Reigate & Banstead recently because I was interested in their local Plan process which is effectively in two stages. They had used their plan making process to demonstrate to the Inspector their target for housing delivery met the Objectively Assessed Needs (OAN) for the Borough.
However as I understand it, they submitted the first part of their plan just after the new National Planning Policy Framework was introduced in 2012 and there has been some development in government thinking about OAN since then.
Even so, Reigate & Banstead recognised Green Belt sites would need to be identified to potentially meet their housing need and in the second part of their plan, they are now identifying the sites where new homes might be built, including in the Green Belt.
Please be assured I have been having “frank and robust” discussions with our MP and Ministers on this subject. I recently commented on my blog that the Local Plan being prepared by the Council is caught between our desire to protect our Green Belt and central government’s determination to increase house building, especially in the South East, to meet demand and reduce the affordability gap. The current average house price in Surrey is £443,000, compared to an average in England of £205,000.
I have also been having discussions with my Surrey Leader colleagues both collectively and individually. It is of little comfort that we all seem to be facing the same Local Plan challenge. The OAN Surrey average represents a 1.2% a year increase on current housing stock.
Tandridge is 1.3%, along with Sevenoaks, so we all have similar numbers which is not surprising as they are all derived from Office of National Statistics growth targets. The plain truth is we are all living longer which is the main driver for the increase. The challenge for us is particularly acute, as we have 94% Green Belt compared to Reigate & Banstead 69%, which is close to the Surrey average of a little over 70%.
This is a very difficult and complex subject. While districts are responsible for drawing up Local Plans, they have to be prepared following government regulation and judged by a government appointed inspector.
We also have a duty to cooperate with our neighbouring councils which just adds to the complexity. Ministers keep talking about the affordability gap (average house prices over average earnings) which is 8 for England but a massive 14 for Tandridge.
I am aware there is a government Housing White paper coming soon and the general feeling is that this will only increase the pressure on districts for housing delivery to reduce that affordability gap.