Some thoughts on the Housing Delivery Test Cohort 2

With the crazy times we are now living in; I’m now likely to be in the confines of my kitchen with a cuppa and a laptop for a little while. So from the quiet of my kitchen I have had the time to reflect on the HDT Action Plan support events held in the last fortnight.

The HDT Action Plan process has been a steep learning curve for us all and I think it’s fair to say the first cohort of action plans missed the mark in terms of who they were written for and what their actions really were. A large proportion were written as if they were handing in homework to MHCLG and expecting a grade or comments in return; some were even written setting out their excuses and hoping to be let off the HDT. I’ve got news for you – this approach doesn’t work and whilst someone did read them all, it’s more likely there will be a naughty list compiled rather than any gold stars being handed out.

The top lesson I, and others involved in the HDTAP process, learnt was – if it’s not a homeward assignment then what is it? The answer is – it can be whatever you need it to be!!! Take control over the picture that surrounds the result. The HDT is in essence a very basic sum – the number of homes delivered divided by the requirement over a 3yr period. The pass and fail thresholds are very rigidly set and you only need to 1% over or under to face the sanctions. The action plan can set the story you want to tell around those blunt figures. 

During the events I was pleasantly surprised at the positivity in the room, including those now in presumption or facing a long sequence of poor results. The HDT is here to stay; make no bones about that and there is plenty of bad press out there bemoaning the ‘all stick and no carrot’ reputation it has. So it was really refreshing to see how people are beginning to see how they can make the action plan process work for them as a useful tool.

The sort of questions you can pose and answer within your own action plan are: Is the result due to the figure you are being assessed against, does this change for the better if a plan gets adopted? Is the figure a short term problem and are you expecting to not fail next time, or the time after that? If things are due to get better then shout about it. If the sanctions are inevitable for some areas then the action plan can be the place for setting out what matters most and what needs protecting when the presumption hits. If the development strategy or protection of employment land is of paramount importance in your plan then use the action plan to set out the evidence you have to support that approach and why unchecked development threatens it. Start to use your action plan as a defence shield in appeal situations; remember your plan sets out what you consider is sustainable development so make sure the action plan reinforces the plan.

I’m certainly going to be weaponsing future action plans to set the story I want to tell to councillors, developers and any future Local Plan Inspector as to what is the picture of delivery in my area and what’s the real story behind the numbers.

A positive coming out of the first cohort is that it has made everyone work better together and be better communicators – teams are now talking to their housing and property colleagues about how council’s as a whole are thinking about housing delivery. 

I’m hoping they will continue to signal the end of the ‘us and them’ hostile environment that used to exist between council’s and the development industry – in the end aren’t we all planners? Don’t forget most of us got into this profession for placemaking reasons and to create homes for our communities no matter which side of the table we sit. We all need to start looking beyond our planning policy bubbles to understand the bigger picture of the housing market and delivery of housing if there is any chance of tackling the housing challenge that awaits us.

Whatever actions plans become in this and future years then I implore you don’t let them be useless.

I can’t help but think the HDT, 5HYLS, AMR and the annual position statement process all feels like they are slightly different ways to do the same thing with different timetables. Surely there is a better way to bring all of the data gathering and analysis together so we all have to do it the same way and to the same timetable.

Whilst we may as a country being currently on a ‘pause’; the housing crisis is not going to have magically disappeared and will, in due course, need to be tackled once again with vigor.

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