By Samantha Curtis

After months of anticipation, the Housing White Paper has been published, recognising the need to ‘fix Britain’s broken housing market’. The white paper has been described by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, as ‘radical’. The government accepts that not all people can afford to buy their own home, which for the Conservative Party, is a radical turnaround.

So, what are the changes and how will they impact the built environment?

  • Planning permission will only be valid for two years after a decision notice has been issued, instead of the current three years.
  • Plan making to be simplified to allow local authorities to agree their housing land supply annually and remain fixed for a one-year period, instead of relying on an out of date Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment (SHLAA).
  • National Planning Policy Framework (NPFF) will be amended to introduce a policy expectation of 10% affordable home ownership units on development sites, and Starter Homes are to be delivered as part of a mixed package of affordable housing.
  • Tighter restrictions on building in the Green Belt – Green Belt boundaries can only be amended when it can be demonstrated that all other options have been explored. Higher financial contributions will also be required for development in the Green Belt.
  • Councils will be given stronger Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) powers to buy back undeveloped sites.
  • Planning fees can be increased by local authorities by 20%.

As above, the aim of the Housing White Paper is to ‘fix our broken housing market’. It sets out to simplify the planning process (heard that one before), but also shifts the blame onto developers by reducing the time given to implement permission, insinuating that sites with planning permission are ‘sat on’. Bringing in this ‘use it or lose it’ approach allows councils to CPO land that developers are seen to be ‘banking’.

If developers are ‘banking’ land, shouldn’t the government be incentivising the completion of houses on this land, rather than increasing fees, contributions and adding further delays while they ‘reform’ local plans, again?

Developers we work with are hungry for sites to develop. Given the tight Green Belt boundaries in our towns and cities, deliverable housing land is gold dust. So what has the White Paper proposed to tackle this problem? Well, not a lot. Green Belt boundaries can (reluctantly) be amended, when all other options have been explored. Not much of a brainwave. Why hasn’t increasing density and prioritising brownfield sites been considered before? Well, it has.

The White Paper remains committed to the involvement of local communities in plan-making. Development Corporations, originally a Thatcher invention to facilitate the development of inner city brownfield sites, could now be used by local communities to deliver the next generation of garden cities, towns, and villages.

The development of land close to transport hubs, particularly brownfield land, has long had the attention of the government as sustainable locations in which to locate new housing.  The additional push in the White Paper should lead to developers and local authorities seeking to better maximise their density output by combining residential with other compatible uses to generate mixed-use developments. This sits alongside the argument of making efficient use of land by avoiding low densities where there is an identified housing need.

In several areas, the barrier to development is viability, especially on brownfield sites, with the implementation of the Community Infrastructure Levy (let’s see how long that lasts) and now a proposed policy expectation of 10% affordable houses and increased planning fees. Is this going to hinder the delivery of housing further?

The Housing White Paper is the biggest planning announcement since the NPPF. The 104-page report sets out the government’s strategy to tackle the housing crisis, and will impact both housebuilders and developers.  To find out more, Cundall’s planning team will talk you through the key points in a lunchtime seminar on March 1. Email s.curtis@cundall.com for more information.

The report concludes that Britain needs more housing (you don’t say?!). Will it help achieve this? Watch this space…

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Planning, Residential, Samantha Curtis Pugalis

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