Another extract from ‘Going West? Housing, migration and population growth in Cornwall.’
Rigging the rules: ‘objectively assessed need’
In 2012 the government produced its National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). This aims to make ‘the planning system work more efficiently and effectively’. The NPPF provides the ‘core planning principles’ that local planning authorities are supposed to work within. At its heart is a ‘presumption in favour of sustainable development, which it describes as a ‘golden thread running through both plan-making and decision-taking’. To further this, planning authorities are told to meet the ‘objectively assessed needs for market and affordable housing in the housing market area’. To do that, they are required to produce a Strategic Housing Market Needs Assessment (SHMNA), which is supposed to establish ‘new locally derived targets based on a thorough understanding of local housing need, demand and supply factors’.
The honeyed words of the NPPF have been carefully crafted but in reality estimates of demand arising from demographic change are not ‘locally derived’ in the SHMNA at all, but calculated by external consultants and based on secondary ‘official’ data sources. Nonetheless, the SHMNA claims to provide a ‘robust understanding’ of needs even though it admits that ‘no methodological approach or use of a particular dataset will result in a definitive assessment of housing need and demand’. Instead, it offers ‘valuable insights’. These critical qualifications tend to be skated over by Cornwall Council’s planners who assert that the SHMNA is ‘vital in achieving the goal of meeting “objectively assessed need”’. Except that ‘objectively assessed’ in this case s about as far from ‘objective’ as we can possibly get.