The Housing White Paper – Feeble or Far-reaching?
10 February 2017
By Darren Hendley, Principal Planner
Central Government’s much awaited Housing White Paper has arrived with the intention of fixing Britain’s “broken housing market”, to quote Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid.
The details set out in the White Paper to boost house building are a mix of carrot and stick measures, aimed at both Local Planning Authorities and the house building industry. Whilst Central Government up to now has largely directed its ire at Local Planning Authorities as the culprit of Britain’s low rate of housebuilding, the White Paper is more measured, as it also expects the house building industry to increase delivery of schemes in their pipelines, if housing numbers are to be markedly increased. The measures may also be introduced reasonably quickly as they do not require a new Planning Bill.
Notable by its near absence are substantive changes to the rigidities of Green Belt policy. It is clear that Central Government does not see widespread Green Belt release as the answer to increasing housebuilding rates. In reality, Green Belt release is already faced by many Local Planning Authorities as they attempt to plan for their housing requirements with tight Green Belt boundaries, and facing significant local opposition. A prime example of the issues that are faced is the various attempts there have been by some local politicians and residents to de-rail the first sub regional Development Plan for some time, the proposed Greater Manchester Spatial Framework, due to Green Belt release to accommodate future housing numbers.
Planning Policy Making
In respect of planning policy making, Central Government intends to introduce a set methodology for housing supply assessment, a recommendation of the Local Plans Expert Group in 2015. A housing delivery test is also going to be introduced, so that additional buffers of housing will apply where there is under delivery, which is defined as less than 85% of housing requirements. Importantly, the five-year review timescale for Local Plans will be mandatory, rather than the current advisory status and housing targets will thus be reviewed every 5 years.
Further tests are also going to be introduced for Neighbourhood Development Plans, so that the recent (and criticised by some) reduction in housing land requirement in these plans from five years to three years does not prevent local housing need from being met.
Developers’ Track Records and Increasing the Implementation of Permissions
For determining planning applications, the track record of an applicant in delivering similar housing schemes could be taken into account as a material consideration. This is an attempt to address issues that have been raised that some housebuilders may just sit on planning permissions. A number of measures to ensure that planning permissions for housing are actually built out are proposed, including wider use of compulsory purchase powers and shorter time periods for implementing permissions. Applicants may need to demonstrate they are not stalling on sites.
The much publicised starter home requirement is proposed to be significantly watered down, so that it will now not be a statutory requirement. Whilst it was thought that starter homes may spell the end for new affordable housing, this is unlikely now to be the case. Housing Associations are likely to welcome this change.
The system of developer contributions resulting from planning approvals is to be reviewed again, which may result in the replacement of the Community Infrastructure Levy with a dual system of tariffs and Section 106 Agreements.
Fees for planning applications may also be on the rise, with 20% increase from July where the additional income will go into planning departments, and a further 20% where a Local Planning Authority is delivering homes their communities’ needs. This is intended to counter the issue of the proportionally higher cutbacks in resources that Local Planning Authorities have faced since public sector funding has been reduced. Fees for planning appeals may also be introduced.
In terms of changing permitted development rights to increasing housing numbers, agricultural to residential use may be expanded, although the White Paper now rules out previous proposals to allow upward extensions to buildings.
Private Rented Sector (PRS)
The White Paper also sets out a marked shift to rental housing, and away from the previous policy position of essentially just promoting home ownership. For planning, where affordable rented accommodation is proposed, this will be able to count as affordable housing.
The measures the White Paper sets out are relatively incremental and do not represent the paradigm shift in housing policy that some commentators anticipated. Nevertheless, for both Local Planning Authorities and the house building industry, the White Paper will result in changes in how they are to deliver housing, especially when considered with the continual reform of the planning system by Central Government. For the house building industry, more resourcing at the consenting and post consent stages may be required; however the ‘quid pro quo’ is there will be more opportunities to increase their house building activities.
The consultation on the White Paper ends on the 2nd May 2017.
If you have any queries, please contact our Planning Team leader:
Clare Walters: e. Clare.Walters@surface-property.co.uk , t. 01904 682 770