Last month, an inspector reaffirmed that unconstrained objectively assessed need (OAN) applies in the absence of an up-to-date plan.

The case involved plans for up to 70 homes in Burghfield Common, the village that gave rise to last year’s Court of Appeal judgment in West Berkshire District Council v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. Appropriately, it also turned on housing supply.

The ruling confirmed that developer-calculated OAN could override the council’s outdated need figures. At the time, the council had a core strategy incorporating figures derived from the South East Plan and no approved OAN figure. Since then, it has made progress. The inquiry heard that a joint strategic housing market assessment (SHMA) had been concluded, producing an OAN, although the core strategy remained in place.

The SHMA suggested use of an intermediate figure between the OAN and the level of need in the core strategy until adoption of a local plan incorporating a specific requirement. The inspector saw no need to adopt this suggestion and used the full objectively assessed need (FOAN), finding it had been "carefully established and any lower provision, even for a limited period, could build in an additional shortfall". This accords with the Court of Appeal judgment in Hunston Properties Ltd v Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2013], which established that FOAN is the figure against which supply should be measured ahead of a local plan producing a constrained figure.

The appellant challenged parts of the council’s methodology in reaching the FOAN. The inspector found the council’s work authoritative and convincing. He resisted the appellant’s arguments that some of the council’s supply would not be deliverable, highlighting the National Planning Policy Framework’s presumption of deliverability for sites with planning permission and noting that the appellant had put forward speculative reasons for this claim. He dismissed the appeal.

Last year, according to COMPASS, housing supply or need calculations were a main issue in 892 appeals. Proposals in this month’s housing white paper should help the situation, including a standardised method for assessing housing requirements and an offer for authorities to have the Planning Inspectorate fix their level of supply annually. This will not end the debate. However, once uncertainties that the standardised approach will throw up are addressed, this should at least narrow the scope for argument and allow authorities that fix supply to concentrate on plan-led development.