Government doubles housing building numbers for Lewes District
Letter to the Editor, Sussex Express
Algorithms have been in the news recently, and not in a good way. The next one to afflict Sussex has been dreamed up by the remarkable Housing and Local Government minister Robert Jenrick, on the advice of his friends in the development industry.
This new algorithm is to decide how many new houses have to be built in each local authority area. Different estimates of actual housing need in Lewes District come out in the range 220-360 per year, close to current actual delivery (around 300). However, Mr Jenrick’s algorithm introduces a fudge factor claiming to reflect affordability. This more than doubles the Lewes number, way up to 800 per year. This is far beyond the number needed, or that could possibly be delivered.
The real reason for the algorithm’s fudge factor is to divert house-building towards those areas of England, including Sussex, where the developer-lobbyists’ masters can most easily harvest windfall gains from the land value uplift when farmland gets planning permission. If you imagine 800 houses per year might actually get built in Lewes, resulting in dramatic falls in house prices, then think again. That would be the exact opposite of every housebuilder’s core business model.
What the lobbyists really want is to go on ignoring sustainable urban brownfield sites, like Lewes North Street and Newhaven Marina (no windfall profits to be made there), but instead use car-dependent greenfield sites in the countryside. Combating climate change means using brownfield sites first. This is the government’s declared policy. Maximising developer windfall profits means doing the exact opposite. That is what the lobbyists Mr Jenrick has shown he prefers to listen to are out to achieve, and his algorithm shows this is his actual policy.