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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Black

The Winner Takes It All????? Who are the winners and losers of the Housing Delivery Test?

I don't wanna talk

About things we've gone through

Interestingly, I found out that the original title that Benny and Bjorn came up with for ‘The Winner Takes it All’ was ‘Story of my Life’ – perhaps that would have been a better analogy for housing numbers but let’s stick with the Abba theme for this blog and see how it pans out.

Last Friday morning bought with it the Housing Delivery Test results for 2021, providing the breakdown of all housing delivery across all authorities in England for the past 3 years. And let’s face it, they’ve gone through a lot. In acknowledgement of the effects of lockdown, the government had already knocked 1 month off the housing requirement for last year (2019-2020) and then it was announced that four months would be knocked off the requirements for the results of this year (2020-21).

I've played all my cards And that's what you've done too Nothing more to say No more ace to play

Even despite this ‘deal’ from government the results make for pretty sobering reading and reveal some pretty woeful performances on housing delivery from boroughs up and down the country. The results show that a total of 93 authorities are on the naughty step and will face consequences and, of those, 51 authorities will face the prospect of the ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development’ being applied in their decision making. Of course, the reality is that for many of those authorities, the presumption is not applied in many cases due to many sites falling under land covered by footnote 7 of the framework, particularly green belt authorities.

The authorities in the relegation zone by way of % include Southend-on-Sea with a result of just 31% having delivered 947 homes in the last three years, although granted this was against a fairly hefty target of 3,041 homes. The ‘winner’, if you want to see it that way, was Oxford with delivery of 2126%!!! However, this was because of delivery of 1879 homes against a requirement of just 88!

The winner takes it all The loser's standing small Beside the victory That's her destiny

In terms of actual homes delivered, Birmingham delivered a whacking 12,257 homes over the last 3 years (a result of 167%). The lowest number of actual homes delivered was by Adur at just 353 (77%), but certainly not the lowest % by any stretch. So the figures don’t say anything about actual homes delivered.

It gets more interesting when you look at the delivery across an entire region. Take Surrey for example:

Building me a home Thinking I'd be strong there But I was a fool Playing by the rules

This shows that across Surrey, one of the most affluent and well connected counties in the UK, there was still a shortfall across the previous 3 years with only 86.7% delivery across the entire county and with five authorities out of the eleven doing the heavy lifting to get them to that point. The delivery of 12,974 is only marginally higher than that of the single highest authority in Birmingham. If Surrey was a borough in its own right then it would be getting ready to submit an action plan. Is this how levelling up is going to pan out? I bloody well hope not!

Things get even bleaker when you look at some of figures which make up those three year averages. Tandridge, in the bottom five for the entire country, provided just 117 homes last year against a requirement of 430. However when you read their annual monitoring report you find out that of that 117 homes, just 9 were affordable housing (yes 9!!). That, frankly, can be described as nothing short of woeful.

The winner takes it all (takes it all) The loser has to fall (has to fall) It's simple and it's plain (it's so plain) Why should I complain? (Why complain?)

Why complain? Well the whole thing around Housing Delivery is not, and should never be, simply a numbers game. The numbers don’t tell us anything about what is going on behind the doors of those authorities and about the motivation of planning staff (something I noted Catriona Riddell commenting on earlier and has been highlighted by the excellent 50 Shades of Planning blog). It also tells us nothing about the quality of homes built, the typology, the location or even how many were granted locally or through appeal?

Somewhere deep inside You must know I miss you But what can I say? Rules must be obeyed

We all know how good those at the very top of the tree are at obeying the rules don’t we? The reality is that there of course no winners and no losers. The authorities who have provided the most probably feel like they have done more than their fair share of lifting. For some decision makers in those authorities might these results represent an opportunity to take their foot off the gas for a bit? Equally, for those authorities struggling anyway, it feels like yet another thing lobbed at them to further chip away at already fatigued staff.

The judges will decide (will decide) The likes of me abide (me abide) Spectators of the show (of the show) Always staying low (staying low

In many local authorities it is unfortunately still the ‘judges’ and more often the local authority inspectors who decide the outcome of housing application. In many areas, communities feel that housing is something done ‘to them’ rather than ‘for them’ or even ‘with them’. All too often, I hear decision makers at local level, refer to decisions being thrust upon them by Central Government and the Housing Delivery Test only add fuel to that already burning fire. Particularly, many ‘spectators of the show’ are looking towards the emerging population projections as further reason of why the previously established need for housing needs to be reviewed.

So the winner takes it all And the loser has to fall Throw the dice, cold as ice Way down here, someone dear Takes it all, has to fall And it's plain, why complain?

For the time being at least, we are where we are. Something needs to be done to keep the foot on the gas when it comes to housing delivery and the HDT results show that things are very uneven in region to region, authority to authority. For now though at least, the Winner really does take it all.


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