In December 2021 we published a letter to Michael Gove which highlighted inconsistencies between his oral evidence to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Monday 8 November and the approach being adopted by Wokingham Borough Council in respect of its Strategic Plan Update.
We have now received a response from Mr Gove's team, which questions the statement by WBC in the Local Plan Update that the standard method for calculating housing need for Wokingham Borough is 768 dwellings a year. The response from Mr Gove's team states that "the standard method for calculating local housing need does not set a target for the number of homes to be built", and also that "local authorities can put forward a different approach to the standard method if they wish, although a different method should only be used in exceptional circumstances and there should be a strong justification for doing so".
This appears to contradict statements made by WBC and hence John Halsall has been asked to clarify the situation. The response from the government also emphasised the importance of brownfield sites in any local housing plan and the need for councils to maintain a register of brownfield sites. The WBC brownfield register appears not to have been updated for more than a year.
The full response from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is set out as a downloadable PDF file on the Downloads page.
We look forward to a response from John Halsall, Leader of WBC, to the questions below:
Email to John Halsall 2/2/22:
You may recall that I copied you on a letter to Michael Gove towards the end of last year, which highlighted inconsistencies between the WBC LPU and Mr Gove’s evidence to the Select Committee on 8 November 2021 .
I have now received the following response from Mr Gove’s department, which raises a number of issues which I wanted to draw to your attention and ask that you respond.
Firstly, the response states that “the standard method for calculating local housing need does not set a target for the number of homes to be built”. How is this consistent with the WBC statement that it has to build 768 dwellings a year from 2018 to 2038?
The government response then states that “local authorities can put forward a different approach to the standard method if they wish although a different method should only be used in exceptional circumstances”. Has WBC proposed a different approach from the standard method? Given the issue re Grazeley and the MoD/AWE emergency planning zone, I would have thought it would be reasonable to produce a local plan which reflected the changed circumstances and therefore a lower housing number?
The response below refers to the role of neighbourhood plans and states that there should be “a high degree of protection for neighbourhood plans that are up-to-date”. In the case of the WBC LPU it ignores the Arborfield and Barkham Neighbourhood Plan, which was only approved by WBC in April 2020, following a referendum where it received 94% support from residents. In reviewing the responses to the recent consultation on the LPU I would urge WBC to take much greater account of our Neighbourhood Plan and specifically address the issues where the two plans are in conflict with each other.
The email I received from Mr Gove’s office also made great play of the importance of brownfield sites. I was therefore disappointed to see that the WBC brownfield register on the council website does not appear to have been updated since October 2020 and has just a couple of dozen entries. Given the scale of funding available for brownfield sites, do you consider that WBC is as active as it should be to identify such sites?
I look forward to hearing from you