THE Campaign to Protect Rural England [CPRE] has warned that moves to relax planning regulations could see house building in the borough of Tunbridge Wells increase by over a fifth.
A government initiative compelling councils to set targets in the coming year based on ‘market signals’ means the authority would need to find room for more than 15,800 homes by 2033.
This marks an increase of 22 per cent on current targets of 13,000 houses as outlined in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), published in September last year.
A spokesman for CPRE told the Times that any increase in targets would lead to ‘pressure’ to allow development on more green belt land or in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty around the town.
CPRE focused on Tunbridge Wells as the constituency of Cabinet Minister Greg Clark.
The CPRE spokesman added: “Communities are increasingly willing to support house building, but nothing is more toxic or calculated to cause battles over planning than excessively high housing targets.
“These force councils to release green fields and green belt for development, and we all know what happens next. Developers cherry-pick the most profitable rural sites, encourage sprawl and neglect brownfield land.”
Fears that housing targets will have to be set higher stem from recommendations published by the Local Plans Expert Group in March.
The quango, which was established by Greg Clark during his time as Communities Secretary, said areas of ‘high demand’, such as the Home Counties, should raise their ‘objectively assessed need’ by adding a ‘market signals uplift’.
The ‘uplift’ is based on a ratio of median house prices to median incomes. Local authorities which have a ratio greater than eight will have to raise their targets by 25 per cent.
In Tunbridge Wells, the average house price is just over 11.6 times more than average earnings.
However, the borough’s target had already increased by 2.7 per cent on the basis of market demand measurements in the SMHA, meaning a 22 per cent increase of an extra 2,860 homes is likely to be needed.
CPRE’s warning is due to reports that the government has endorsed the recommendations following consultations, and that the current Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government will include them in the Housing White Paper in January.
If implemented, the recommendations are likely to cause a major headache for the Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which is currently formulating its Local Plan on which parts of the borough should be allocated for further housing development.
Cllr Alan McDermott, Portfolio Holder for Planning, said: “It is too soon to comment on this since Government has yet to make its intentions clear.”