South Bucks named and shamed for poor housing performance

South Bucks has been named and shamed in a list of 22 local authorities set to fail the Government’s new housing delivery test – and where intervention later this year may be inevitable. 

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South Bucks residents (along with many from Slough itself) have been vocal in their contempt of Slough Borough Council’s aspirations to expand beyond its current borders.  But now it has emerged that they could soon be facing a bigger threat – the Government.

Planning Resource has published a survey of housing delivery over the period 2013-2016 in local authorities with no up-to-date Local Plans and found that net annual additions fall below 95 per cent of projected annual household growth in nearly two-thirds of districts.

With South Bucks ranking among the worst in the country for accommodating even its own housing needs it will soon be at risk of direct intervention from the Government to get its housebuilding back on track.

The new Housing Delivery Test, set out in this month’s Housing White Paper, will from November assess housing delivery - measured using official figures for net additional dwellings over a three-year period - against councils’ housing requirements. The white paper says that the test will "highlight whether the number of homes being built is below target, provide a mechanism for establishing the reasons why, and where necessary trigger policy responses that will ensure that further land comes forward".

From November, a new test will measure housing delivery against Local Plan housing targets.  But where authorities have plans that are more than five years old, as in the case of South Bucks, delivery will be measured against latest household projections until a new standardised methodology for assessing housing need is introduced in April 2018.

Planning Resource says its list of poor performers against the test include a number with Green Belt constraints, and authorities with tightly drawn boundaries – such as Oxford, Stevenage and Coventry – which are, like Slough, seeking to work with their neighbours to address housing need across wider housing market areas.

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South Bucks residents have been universally disparaging of Slough’s intention to use the legal “duty to cooperate” to force its roomier neighbour to provide space for an ever expanding population in a 5,000-strong “garden suburb”.

While politicians acknowledged in 1974 that they had overly constrained the newly created Slough Borough Council, failing to give it room to grow, some over the border have even insisted that the borough’s few parks and football pitches be used for housing before such measures are contemplated.  Overtures from Slough’s planners, begging bowl in hand, have so far been rebutted by counterparts at South Bucks.

Ironically, sprawling South Bucks find itself (being predominantly Green Belt), in much the same situation as its more confined neighbour – required to find room to build new homes on, but without the land to build on.  But if it does not act quickly it may lose control over where to build them.

Under the Government’s new rules, where a local authority fails the test, it will force the release of land to kick-start new housing.  The authority would be required to publish an action plan, “setting out its understanding of the key reasons for the situation and the actions that it and other parties need to take to get homebuilding back on track”.

Oxford City Council said that it had “significant concerns” that the housing delivery test would “penalise authorities which do not have the physical capacity to meet housing need”.  It seems Slough and South Bucks have more in common than many would have though.

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