The government’s target is to build 300,000 new homes each year. But that isn’t really the target – it’s better described as a political objective, or an aspiration. Instead, the actual housing target for England is the number of homes that local authorities are planning to deliver. You would expect that figure to be pretty close to the government’s objective, and national planning policy tries to make sure that is the case.
The standard method – the calculation the government currently requires councils to follow to calculate their housing target – produces a housing target for England of 308,417.
But is that the number of homes that local authorities are actually planning to deliver?
Surprisingly for a figure that is so important to housing supply, it isn’t centrally monitored – so we have tried to work it out.
Our starting point for this research was a report published by Lichfields, a planning consultancy, in April 2022. Although this report was intended to calculate the standard method housing target for each local authority, in most cases, it also included the adopted housing target from their most recent local plan.
We updated the data in two ways. Firstly, we filled in the gaps where data was missing. Next, we identified all those local authorities where a new local plan had been adopted since Lichfields’ assessment and recorded the new housing target. This enabled us to calculate the aggregate number of homes that are being planned for. The results are summarised regionally in figure 1.
For England as a whole, local plans are currently aiming to deliver just 233,010 new homes each year.
When it takes an average of seven years for a new local plan to be prepared, plenty of them are based on housing targets which pre-date the standard method. Development sites also take some time to be built out. The new homes being completed this year will have been granted planning permission a year ago at the very least.
In considering the importance of local plan housing targets on housing supply, it is therefore helpful to look at what housing targets have been in the recent past.
Before they were abolished in 2010, housing targets were set out in Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and the London Plan. By looking at the housing target in the most recent version of those documents – not all of them reached adoption - before they were scrapped, we can see that the housing target for England as a whole at that time was 209,967 homes (see figure 2).
England’s housing target has therefore changed very little in the last fifteen years. Despite the government’s claimed desire to increase the number of new homes being built, the actual housing target has increased by just a little more than 10%.
It is interesting to compare these figures with actual housing delivery. Data on the number of new homes built each year is poor, but the best source we have is the government’s data series on net additional dwellings. This includes new homes from all sources – including conversions as well as new build homes – and deducts from it the number of homes which have been demolished. This makes it equivalent to local plan housing targets, which are for new homes from all sources of supply.
As you would expect, the number of new homes built each year reflects market conditions. During the financial crisis of 2007/8, the number of new homes fell. When market conditions improved, the number of new homes being built increased. However, even in the very strong markets of recent years, the number of new homes built each year plateaus at around 230,000 – roughly the number of new homes that we are actually planning to build.
The planning system might not build homes, but it does control how much housing development land is made available. They are currently identifying enough land to deliver just 230,010 homes in aggregate – far below both the government’s objective and the output of the standard method calculation. Local plans have been aiming to deliver a similar number of new homes for the last 15 years. It should be no surprise, therefore, that we’re not building more homes. If we want to increase the supply of new homes, we have to plan for it.