Published: 12:46, 16 December 2020
| Updated: 12:48, 16 December 2020
The scrapping of a computer-based formula for devising house-building targets has been welcomed by politicians in Kent.
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has confirmed the government has revised the way targets are calculated, with more focus on building in the UK's 20 largest cities, particularly in the north and the Midlands.
He said the methodology used by councils in their Local Plan-making process is being “updated”.
It follows a furious backlash from Conservative MPs and councillors across the country.
Conservative leader of Kent County Council councillor Roger Gough was so concerned that he wrote a letter to MPs saying the issue of overdevelopment could cost the party seats at the local council elections in May next year.
Cllr Nicholas Heslop, leader of Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council, was among those who had demanded a rethink.
He said: "The announcement is welcome news and I am pleased that the Secretary of State has listened to the points I made directly to him on behalf of our communities within Tonbridge and Malling.
"The sheer scale of the annual number of 1,440 houses that we would have been required to have built was simply unsustainable."
Ashford MP Damian Green – who was one of those campaigning against the “notorious algorithm” used in the plan-making process – welcomed the change.
“Delighted that the Government has listened and changed the notorious housing algorithm. Good news for Ashford, and indeed the whole of Kent. We needed some,” he tweeted.
There was a word of warning from at least one senior councillor, who said housing targets were already too high.
Cllr Mike Baldock, Swale council's cabinet member for planning, said: "Whilst it is welcome news that this Government is looking to 'update' its methodology for formulating housing targets, it remains the fact that here in Swale we already have too high a target, with even more housing having to be allocated irrespective of the new algorithms.
"Unless the new measures allow us to retrospectively reduce targets imposed by central Government, the fact remains that much of Kent, including Swale, is having to implement imposed targets that are simply not supported by existing or promised future infrastructure, and are not wanted by most of our residents.
"It must also not be allowed to be forgotten amidst the concern about the higher targets that this govermment is also planning a radical new planning regime that will rip up local accountability and deliver a red light for development across the country that will under-deliver in affordable housing numbers, ignore local community concerns, and undermine the ability of local councils to plan appropriately for their own areas."
The targets had been based on an algorithm that set levels much higher across Kent districts than existing plans set by councils.
Mr Jenrick said the government still wanted to build 300,000 new homes across England each year by the mid-2020s.
He added that the changes to the methodology used to determine roughly how many homes should be built in each council area reflected concerns that more investment should be directed to the north and Midlands, with new development concentrated on brownfield sites.