The latest planning reforms aim to get Britain building
As if one algorithm hasn?t caused enough problems in the last few weeks, now the government is facing criticism of another one. This time planning reforms are in the frame. Under recent changes to the planning laws sent out for consultation on 6 August, the government proposes to allocate the 337,000 a year new homes target among local authorities, which will then need to find the land to meet their quota.
Sounds reasonable so far. There is no question that we need more housing and there is plenty of suitable building land available. However, the problem - as with the recent exam grades fiasco - is with the government's ?levelling up? promise. This time its pledge to help more disadvantaged parts of the country rather than pupils is under scrutiny.
According to analysis carried out by planning consultancy Lichfields and reported in The Times today, the algorithm being used to do the calculations of housing need seems to be focusing development on the suburbs and the countryside, rather than in towns and cities where there is brownfield land aplenty and the opportunity to create new housing in inventive ways. In addition, because of the algorithm's emphasis on affordability, it seems that new housing is likely to be built predominantly in London and the South East while cities in the Midlands and the north of England could end up with fewer new homes than in the last three years.
In Leicester, Lichfields estimates that housebuilding would fall by 32%, in direct contrast to a rise of 51% in Leicestershire as a whole; in Nottingham, it would fall by 22%, whereas for the rest of the county it would rise by 38.7%; and in Liverpool, the number of new homes being built could fall by as much as 59%.
Neil O?Brien, the Tory MP for Harborough in Leicestershire, told The Times today: ?Lots of our large cities have brownfield land and capacity to take more housing and it seems strange when planning to ?level up? to be levelling down their housing targets to rates even lower than they have been delivering?.
We agree. Not only is it vital to build homes where they are most needed but the government could find itself in another fix as it tries to explain to Conservative voters in the south East ? who historically are prone to nimbyism - why they should put up with yet more new housing being built on their doorstep, while large Labour-run cities elsewhere in the country are given much lower targets to meet.
Lessons really should have been learned in the last few weeks about the dangers of using mass calculations. This is another example of where an algorithm needs to be carefully scrutinised before it is put into action.
To read the Government consultation in full go to https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/planning-for-the-future
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Author : Mary-Anne Bowring
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