Thanet council leader’s letter to government to request review of housebuilding targets

Council leader Ash Ashbee

Thanet council leader Ash Ashbee has written to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up to request a review of the current housing situation in the district and for a flexible approach to housing targets to reflect local needs.

The letter follows measures made by government alongside the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill following a rebellion by some 60 MPs who backed a plan to ban mandatory housing targets in England,

Secretary of State Michael Gove announced the measures to give local councils greater control over housebuilding in their areas. These include looking at local housing needs rather than mandatory housing rate targets, making it easier to develop brownfield rather than green spaces and introducing a registration scheme for short-term lets.

New guidance sets out that local authorities are not required to review Green Belt to deliver homes. Brownfield land will be prioritised for development, with the government launching a review into how such sites are used.

‘Persistent building of homes’

Cllr Ashbee wrote: “I know that you are aware of the work that we have commenced to utilise our success with the two Levelling Up funds that seek to create new opportunities for residents and boost inward investment.

“It is through these initiatives that we will see economic growth, not through the persistent building of homes which many of our residents cannot afford.

“With your new approach and future legislation it is hoped that our district will see housing numbers that reflect the various elements of our unique situation of static population growth, declining birth rate and the unique geographic pressure from being such a small district bounded by the sea on three sides.”

Thanet Local Plan

The Thanet local plan – a blueprint for housing, business and infrastructure –  has housing need calculated using the Government’s “standard method” resulting in a figure of 21,700 dwellings in the district by 2040. The local plan up to 2031 – with 17,140 homes required – was adopted in July 2020 but at the end of last year a review began to extend the plan to 2040.

Thanet council is currently considering around 200 sites on the isle that have been put forward as potential areas for development or open spaces following a ‘Call for Sites’ last year.

Change needed says Thanet council

But a housing document discussed by Thanet council Cabinet members in September says housing figures should be calculated by using the 2018 census-based population figures, so that numbers better reflect local need.

The document also highlights how councils are penalised by government for not delivering the required number of houses per year despite many of the issues being down to slow constriction by house builders.

Thanet council says the housing delivery test should be changed to a planning permission test permissions, meaning councils would be judged on the planning part of the housing delivery process that they actually control. There could then be new sanctions for land owners, developers and land agents who fail to bring forward allocated and consented sites for development.

Land for affordable housing

Thanet council also recommends a new designation of Affordable Housing land so that affordable housing providers are more able to compete for land acquisition with developers and housebuilders. A use of compulsory purchase powers for affordable housing delivery is suggested along with a funded national programme of affordable housing delivery with increased grant rates to enable providers to compete for available land.

The report says funding is also needed for  infrastructure, such as the major road network, and this should be allocated according to identified need not a competitive bidding process that inevitably leaves some areas, particularly those with the least ability to raise match funding, without key infrastructure.

Local Housing Allowance

Thanet council also wants an urgent review of the Thanet Local Housing Allowances.

The Local Housing Allowance sets the maximum amount a council will pay in housing benefit for a private rental but this has been fixed by government since 2020 and despite Universal Credit and other benefits going up in line with inflation next April this is not the case for LHA. The council says rates need to realign with the cheapest 30% in the private sector. Currently LHA rates are less than the cheapest rentals on the market, meaning tenants have to make up the shortfall out of limited income.

Thanet council receives around 1,000 homelessness applications each year. The council is landlord of 3034 properties but demand outstrips supply.

The letter to government comes on the heels of calls by councillors from all political parties to tackle the housing crisis in Thanet including a call to action from Labour’s Helen Whitehead.

Members of Westgate & Garlinge Action Group Against Housing Development on Farmland have also written to Michael Gove to ask why amendments to the planning system do not include protection of agricultural land.

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