Two local plan inquiry inspectors have recently rejected proposed policies requiring affordable housing because the councils were relying on flawed housing needs surveys (HNS).
The inspector at the East Staffordshire local plan inquiry found that the housing needs survey "fails in so many ways to provide a clear and sound basis for identifying affordable housing needs". The inspector commented that "it is simply not acceptable that landowners/house builders are expected to contribute to affordable housing without a sound demonstration of need". He said:
"The HNA [housing needs assessment] could not simply be described as imprecise or worn at the edges. As it was conceded by the Council, FRL identified some errors that go to the substance of the HNS/HNA. It is fundamentally flawed in respect of a number of important elements. The great majority of these substantially overestimate the scale of the need for affordable housing. The HNA provides an inadequate foundation for any Local Plan Policy identifying the tenure of the affordable housing to be provided and for seeking any affordable housing at all from new housing developments. As the Council accepted, affordable housing can only be required where there is a demonstrable need. Whilst few HNAs may have been contested by housebuilders, this could be because housebuilders generally pass the costs onto landowners and may be quite content to provide more houses than they might otherwise. These costs can be onerous and what amounts to a tax on landowners must clearly be fully justified by a sound HNA. ... The evidence at this inquiry was rigorously tested and is clear and conclusive. Now that this HNA has been subject to detailed scrutiny and found to be unsound, the Council's position at any S78 appeal would be severely compromised."
The inspector at the Redditch local plan inquiry found the housing needs survey "wanting in several material respects" and concluded that it was not "appropriate for the council to place reliance upon it in assessing the Borough's need for affordable housing". He found that, as a result and following the guidance in Circular 6/98, there was "no justification for a policy being included in the plan to seek affordable housing from residential schemes".
Both proposed local plan policies now provide that affordable housing can only be required where future, robust housing needs assessments show that there is in fact a need for affordable housing.
Richard Honey appeared at the local plan inquiries on behalf of Fordham Research Limited, who objected to the policies as part of a campaign aimed at raising professional standards in the preparation of housing needs assessments.