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An update on Uttlesford's Objectively Assessed Housing Need September 2017

Uttlesford District Council is required to plan to meet its objectively assessed housing needs (OAHN) within its Local Plan.

This OAHN is calculated by looking at past levels of housing growth and projecting them forward, this is then adjusted to reflect "market signals", such as high prices and affordability issues. The OAHN has to be calculated on the basis of looking at the Housing Market Area (HMA). The HMA reflects the fact that someone looking to buy a house in a particular area does not think about local government boundaries, it is based on travel to work patterns, migration patterns and the price of housing, but it is not an exact science and there is often an overlap on the margins of the HMA. For the purposes of calculating OAHN Uttlesford lies within the West Essex and East Hertfordshire HMA, this comprises East Hertfordshire, Epping Forest, Harlow and Uttlesford.

The Local Plan consultation that the council has carried out over the summer included a figure of 14,100 as Uttlesford's OAHN. This was based on using the government's 2014-based household projections, converting this to dwellings and then with a market signals adjustment of 20%, to reflect issues around house prices, affordability and other issues in the HMA.

In July 2017, just as the consultation on the Local Plan was commencing, an update to the OAHN was published by the council's consultants. This included a figure for Uttlesford's OAHN of 13,332. This was similarly based on the government's 2014-based household projections, converting this to dwellings and then with a slightly lower adjustment of market signals of around 14%. The evidence for this 14% adjustment stated that 20% would still be a reasonable adjustment but would be likely to be towards the upper end of such an adjustment. An adjustment of 14% would be capable of accommodating net migration, would allow for household formation rates for those under 35 to be no lower than in 2001. On balance, the consultants consider that the 14% adjustment is reasonable.

While this evidence wasn't published in good time to inform the consultation that has just finished on the Local Plan, it is something that can be reflected upon and taken into account for the next stage of consultation. The East Hertfordshire Local Plan Examination, commencing in October, will help inform the council's thinking on this. In its considerations the council will also need to think about the government requirement for plans to have sufficient flexibility to adapt to rapid change.

While the government states that their household projections, produced by the department of Communities and Local Government (CLG), should provide the starting point for calculating OAHN, there are alternative projections. One such set of projections are those produced by the GLA. The difference between the GLA's methodology and the projections used for the Local Plan is that the GLA projections are based on a matrix - so an out migrant from one area will be an in-migrant to another, whereas the projections used for the Local Plan are based on migration trends both to and from the HMA. The result of this difference in methodology is that the GLA projections are based on moves from other places. This is a fundamental difference, so the results of the two models are not the same.

The latest work, with the 14% adjustment, examines the GLA projections alongside the CLG projections and the SHMA projections, and uses them to inform the market signals adjustment that is applied to the household projection-based estimate of housing need to establish the Objectively Assessed Housing Need. The GLA projections themselves have not had a market signals adjustment applied to them which would be necessary as part of the process of establishing overall housing need.

The council will consider the GLA projections, and any other projections, as it works towards the next stage of consultation on the Local Plan. However, it is worth noting that the government's guidance is that the CLG household projections should be the starting point for determining OAHN. So, were the council to choose to use a different set of projections for establishing its OAHN, it must have good reasons for doing so. Furthermore, as the OAHN must be established for the HMA as a whole, choosing a different set of projections from other authorities in the HMA would undermine the council's ability to defend the OAHN as being properly produced.