Letter: Covid-19 means we must take a different approach to housing targets

27th June 2020

Letter published by West Sussex County Times, 25 June 2020

Sir,

Usage of ‘Standard Method’ not mandatory

Cllr Vickers rightly advises that the Council cannot “simply tell the government that in view of Covid-19 we should go ahead with a much lower housing number”, and also that “we need to take in to account the exceptional and emergency circumstances we are living through” (WSCT 18 June 2020).

Cllr Vickers is, however, mistaken in her belief that the council must use the Government’s ‘Standard Method’ formula to determine its housing target, and that its usage is mandatory.

How councils are to determine their housing targets is explained in the ‘Guidance: Housing and Economic Needs Assessment, guides councils in how to assess their housing needs’, issued by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

The Guidance advises that usage of the formula-based Standard Method is “not mandatory”, “if it is felt that circumstances warrant an alternative approach,” with the caveat “that any other method will be used only in exceptional circumstances” (Paragraph 003 Reference ID: 2a-003-20190220).

And, Cllr Vickers has acknowledged that “we need to take in to account the exceptional and emergency circumstances we are living through” (WSCT, 18 June).

After all, the Covid-19 pandemic and resultant recession, which the Chancellor Rishi Sunak has advised is “a recession the likes of which we have not seen”, is an ‘Exceptional Circumstance’ that most certainly warrants an alternative approach and method in order to determine the district’s “genuine housing need”.

Moreover, to do this the Guidance does not require the Secretary of State for Housing’s permission.

Instead, the council should itself determine what the district’s housing need is and submit it to the Planning Inspectorate, as a part of the proposed local plan, for scrutiny at the Examination-in-Public.

It would be beneficial if the district’s councillors were to scrutinise for themselves the Guidance, in particular: Paragraph 003 Reference ID: 2a-003-20190220.

Yours faithfully,

Dr R F Smith
Trustee CPRE Sussex