I read an article recently bemoaning the fact that Tesco can tell you immediately how many custard tarts they have on sale across the country at any one time, but the writer was unable to get a quick response to a COVID-19 query on whether larger than average households meeting up with 2 other households, as now permitted, are still limited to 8 people in total.

It brought to mind a blog which I did a couple of years ago with an erstwhile colleague highlighting that it was easier to measure the distance to the sun or the breadth of a human hair than calculate the housing land supply in a certain local authority area.

Pre-coronavirus, the Scottish Government had begun to take steps towards addressing this uncertainty. Through NPF4, the Ministers will define housing land targets for all local development plan areas and for all tenures. Previously overlooked; homeless, concealed and overcrowded households will be included in the calculation of existing need.

COVID-19 has delayed the publication of the draft NPF4 until Autumn 2021 and it will undoubtedly have other effects on calculating housing need and supply.

In our recent podcast, Kevin Stewart, the Local Government, Housing and Planning Minister, confirmed that the Scottish Government is behind in achieving its target of 50,000 affordable homes by 2021. Not surprising, perhaps, given that the housebuilding industry has been in lockdown since March. Social distancing requirements on re-opened construction sites will continue to impact on the number of completions which will be delivered over the coming months.

What does this mean for housing land audits which both look back at what has been delivered in the previous year and forward to predict the number of units which will be delivered over a 5 year period? Aberdeen City and Shire are proposing not to finalise their 2020 audit, yet with a January base date, it should be virus-free, so to speak. It will be 2021 before the slowdown in completions is actually captured in the figures.

What must be avoided is a reduction in the anticipated housing targets based on a temporary drop-off in completions.

Shelter, SFHA and CIB’s recent joint report identified a need for 53,000 affordable homes in the period 2021-2026. While the Scottish Government has committed £300M to delivering affordable housing in 2021-22, it will be mainly through the construction of new mainstream housing that this need will be met. If every development provides 25% of its units as affordable in accordance with national policy, the national housing target for the same period would be in the region of 215,000 homes for the same 5 year period. That means building 43,000 new homes every year. That may sound a lot, but the English housing market delivered 220,000 new homes last year alone.

To assist recovery and renewal south of the border after COVID-19, the Social Market Foundation has proposed that large housing developments be considered nationally significant infrastructure, critical to the nation’s economy in the same way that transport projects are viewed. Housing developments comprising over 1000 units would be subject to the Development Consent Order process, removing the need to obtain several separate consents, including planning permission, with the intention of delivering new homes quickly; ideally within 12 months of plans being submitted.

The positive economic benefits of new housing were recognised recently by the court in Gladman Developments v Scottish Ministers. The court also underlined the need to have a generous housing land supply.

Working from home will have changed people’s views on both where they want to live and the type of dwelling they want to live in. That has implications for setting and meeting housing targets. We can expect Housing to 2040, the Scottish Government’s vision for housing, which has also been delayed, to reflect the shift in public opinion.

Mr Stewart himself spoke about how he wished his Edinburgh flat had a balcony so that he could enjoy some outdoor space during lockdown. He stressed the importance of people having places where they feel safe, unconfined and relaxed. And the need to deliver more well-designed, energy efficient, affordable homes.

Determining the national housing requirement was never going to be a piece of cake, but the essential ingredients are definitely coming together. And as Tesco knows; every little helps.