Councillors criticise Government for ‘cloud-cuckoo-land’ housing targets

Lewisham Council has accused the government of deliberately hiking up housing targets Pic: Steve Cadman

New housing policies and unattainable housing targets could strip councils of their ability to reject developers, Lewisham councillors have warned.

Councillors accused the Government of deliberately hiking up housing targets, effectively forcing councils into accepting higher levels of planning applications.

The introduction of a “housing delivery test“, which punishes boroughs for falling below the government’s targets for new homes, was criticised by members of Lewisham housing select committee.

Coming into effect this month, the penalties of the housing delivery test are implemented by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and remove councils’ ability to oppose developers if government targets are not met by 2020.

These figures are currently more than double Lewisham’s own projections, set at 3,181 new home completions per year.

David Syme, strategic planning manager for Lewisham Council, called this figure “challenging”.

Syme said: “Approvals and completions of new housing across London are slowing down. Clearly, if we are set to continue along this trend, the impact of the housing delivery test is quite significant.”

Syme explained that the NPPF ruling works by classifying boroughs that have not met targets as having a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, which enables planning permissions to go through under their framework even if they are contrary to pre-agreed local policy.

“Essentially, our position on refusing applications on local issues will become much weaker,” he said. “Our position on defending appeals from developers will also become weaker. We will be assessed on National Planning Policy Framework.”

Members of the housing select committee expressed concern that this ruling could have disastrous consequences.

Councillor Paul Bell, cabinet member for housing, said: “The reality is that we are not going to achieve the government’s targets.”

Bell continued: “This is what their intention is: to stop people resisting planning and development. What the government calls ‘nimby-ism’ is what we call proper democratic scrutiny and accountability.”

Lewisham Council is currently following the targets for net housing completions set out in the draft London Plan, which provides a guide for councils’ own yearly projections. Even these, however, have seen a 50 per cent increase in Lewisham from 1,385 to 2,117 new units.

Councillor Stephen Penfold said the figures are in “cloud cuckoo land”. He added: “We haven’t done it in the past – why would we do it now?”

Bell said that high targets are “a reverse way of getting planning permissions through. We will see more development of a greater density and planning that we will have no power to turn down.”

Bell continued: “We need to make sure, more than anything, that we have a change of government.”

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