PRIVATE planning consultants “grossly overstated” Oxfordshire’s housing need by more than double, a planning expert has claimed.

The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) Oxfordshire’s consultant, Alan Wenban-Smith, says the assessed need to build 100,000 homes in 15 years, was “cobbled together”.

He warns it will give builders “carte blanche in their choice of which sites to develop”.

The Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA) for Oxfordshire, published in March, recommends councils build 40,000 more homes than their own previous targets by 2031.

Oxfordshire’s four district council leaders all said they wanted to challenge the figure, and the CPRE hopes this report will help them do that.

CPRE Oxfordshire director Helen Marshall said: “The Oxfordshire SHMA is so overstated and so fatally flawed, both in its interpretation of evidence and lack of adherence to government planning guidance policy, as to be unfit for purpose.

“In the light of the report’s findings, CPRE is calling on all local authorities to reject the SHMA and not to use it as a basis for any future planning decisions.”

Mr Wenban-Smith’s report concluded the SHMA is not in accordance with government planning policy, which allows “adjustment of the Government’s published household projections”, not, he said, a “wholesale replacement”.

He also accused the SHMA’s authors, a trio of private planning and economic consultancy firms, of replacing projections for migration in and out of Oxford over 10 years with an estimate “cobbled together” from total population and births and deaths.

He told the Oxford Mail: “They have nearly tripled the official government estimate with no adequate reasons.

“It will have the effect of giving builders carte blanche in their choice of which sites to develop to meet actual levels of demand.”

The SHMA is the government-recommended method for district and city councils to calculate their housing need.

Councils are not obliged to accept the figure produced, but if they calculate their own figure with a different method, they will be required to justify it to a government planning inspector, and explain why their method is superior to the government-recommended method.

Vale of White Horse District Council leader Matt Barber said his scrutiny committee is already looking at potential points on which to challenge the SHMA, and said he would look at the CPRE report for anything that could help.

He said: “If the methodology can be challenged that would be incredibly helpful to us.

“Fundamentally we have the same aims as the CPRE, but they can say what they want, whereas we are a local authority.”

Earlier this month, Wantage and Henley MPs Ed Vaizey and John Howell called on planning minister Nick Boles to “urgently” review the SHMA methodology.

CPRE study conclusions

  • The SHMA is not in accordance with government planning policy.
  • The estimate for Oxford migration was “cobbled together’’.
  • SHMA authors used a pre-credit crunch average household size projection, meaning 7,600 more houses would be needed.
  • The SHMA disregards the effects of the global economic crisis.
  • It uses a projected creation of 85,000 new jobs in 15 years as a direct requirement for 24,000 new homes.
  • It underestimates the percentages of affordable housing which would be necessary.
  • SHMA recommends building 15,000 houses just to get more affordable homes as a by-product.
  • It assumes building more houses lowers prices, whereas the 2004 Baker report found that a 50 per cent national increase in building would price 5,000 homes in the country into the market.
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