Discussions regarding housing need tend to be very technical and involve the government's guidelines together with evolving statistics from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
What are the government's rules?
The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) contains measures to ensure that boroughs deliver enough housing. In order to do this they use Land Supply for new housing as a control measure. The rules now require the boroughs to identify sufficient land to build their planned housing; and to make that available for development via the planning process.
The rules incorporate the use of ONS data on population projections and housing affordability. Recent governments have promoted the idea of building more houses to reduce homelessness and reduce house prices (the '1 million homes' pledge). They required the ONS to 'enhance' their stats to show greater requirement for houses in areas of low affordability and housing delivery, a hybrid system part policy part data, in a model that was known as 'Objectively Assessed Housing Need' - 'the Standard Method' (an algorithm). The effect of this has been to increase development in the greenbelt and create land banking. Land Banking is where speculators purchase land in order to obtain planning and then resell the land at a profit. It also refers to the practice of developers taking on large developments and then developing them slowly, to drip feed the market when the house price increases. The system penalises local authorities that are too slow in producing new plans, or who run out of land, or who do not deliver enough houses (even though it is not the borough who builds them). Penalties involve increased targets and/or referral of new planning applications to the Planning Inspectorate to over rule the local plan.
Successive iterations of the law to bring forward more housing (by releasing more land) have failed to deliver the expected houses. The system places no penalties on developers for failing to deliver, but in borough's with low delivery the government system requires the authority to release even more land.
This year (August 2020) the government circulated their white paper on revising the planning system (again) to build more houses (again). As part of that proposal they changed the algorithm to deliver a lot more land for houses. However, due to changes in demography and house prices, 3 boroughs in Kent had lower targets (Gravesham, Medway and Thanet). Under the existing rules Gravesham is required to plan for 10,480 additional homes in the Borough by 2036. Under the new proposals, this target would fall to 6,480 (i.e. easily provided for within the urban area). [Update following the Minister's 16th December statement]:-
On the 16th of December 2020 the government issued it's response to consultation on the new measures proposed in August. Part of that response was to withdraw the new algorithm and revert to the 2017 figures; which set's Gravesham's target back to 10,480. The bulk of the remaining shortfall against the '1 million homes' pledge in the South East coming from inner London, which had it's targets uplifted by 35%.
However; the minister went on to state "We heard clearly through the consultation that the building of these homes should not come at expense of harming our precious green spaces. We also heard views that this need can be better met in existing urban areas. There are good reasons for this. First, our urban centres are the best-served by existing infrastructure – with schools, shops and medical facilities.
Second, building more homes in our cities and urban centres will mean making the best use of brownfield land, of which many cities and urban centres continue to have large quantities, and protecting our countryside as much as possible.
Third, building homes around our transport hubs will help us to deliver our ambition to tackle climate change by offering greater access to more sustainable forms of transport and reducing unnecessary journeys."
Although this complicates our position, our recommended objectives remain the same; to maxmise use of brownfield sites for house building while preserving the greenbelt. [end of update]
Some further reading:-
The understanding of why the housing crisis has occured is complex. At the root of the problem is the withdrawl of local government from providing large amounts of social housing (as happened in the 1970's), rapid population growth and the increased costs associated with recycling brownfield land. The House Builders Federation campaign loudly on the stance that it is lack of land supply (lobbying for widespread use of greenbelt land for house building) and that delays in the planning system causes lack of delivery. CPRE point out that there is more than enough brownfield land to build a million houses on. The NAO report into housing delivery concludes that planning approval has speeded up so that the majority of major residential applications are being processed in a timely manner. In contrast the Planning Inspectorate appeals system (which plans default to under the NPPF rules) processes less than a third of appeals within the target timescale. It also points out that a reduction in planning staff at the borough level and increasing demands by way of rapidly changing legislation is having a negative effect on delivery and the amount of appeals.
Within the planning system, and the Core Plan in general there is little consideration of what greenbelt land is used for. It is regarded as a resource rather than the source of our food, and intrinsic part of our borough and habitat for nature. The future pressures on the greenbelt in Kent include:-