I have been reflecting on whether the Government's latest
housing proposals will achieve Sajid Javid's ambitions for
"radical, lasting reform" and create a "new,
positive, mindset to house building".
Inevitably, some commentators have been critical and dismissive
of the White Paper. It is true that it uses some of the same
language as the 2007 Planning White Paper. It is also clear that
there is no quick fix to the housing crisis.
However there is some hope that the Government's approach to
addressing the "whole house building process" will
deliver solutions over time. The White Paper helps to demonstrate
that the Government understands what is required in each of its
four steps of this process, and that collective minds should be
focused on achieving results.
I have the following observations on some of the proposals:
Engaging local communities – the White Paper encourages
local communities to decide where developments should go through
the local plan process. Local people generally get involved at the
planning application stage, so there need to be innovative
solutions to encourage engagement in local plans. We need to find
ways of getting younger generations and the silent majority more
involved at the plan making stage, which would act as a counter
balance to those who are more interested in protecting their areas
than meeting growth needs.
Maximising the use of suitable land – it is right that we
should be seeking to maximise the use of land and to build at
higher densities, particularly if our major cities are not going to
be able to expand outwards. The difference between
"maximise" and "optimise" may be subtle, but
there will be plenty of debate if the NPPF states that the use of
suitable land should be maximised and that the potential of sites
to accommodate development should be optimised.
Encouraging more Build to Rent – the explicit support for
expanding BTR has been welcomed, particularly to promote affordable
private rental homes instead of other tenures of affordable
housing. The critical factor will be whether there is sufficient
clarity to level the playing field so that providers can buy land
and accelerate the delivery of new homes. Introducing land use
zoning would have been a radical solution to provide more help to
Sharpening local authority tools – alongside plans to
free up the use of completion notices, two year planning
permissions could threaten development. There will be an additional
burden of proof to show that this shorter timescale will hinder
viability and deliverability. Two years is a short time to do
detailed design, discharge conditions, raise finance, do land
deals, select contractors and respond to market conditions. Some
funders may baulk at meeting high costs of securing a planning
permission that only last two years.
Backing local authorities to build – it is helpful that
there is positive encouragement and tools in place for local
authorities to build homes. However, local authorities
shouldn't see it as their role to build only when the market
isn't coming forward with enough homes. Strong local leadership
is needed to produce ambitious long term visions to overcome the
complicated challenges of developing public sector land.
Boosting local authority resources – the White Paper
acknowledges the perennial problem of the need for skills and
capacity in planning authorities. Given that housing has risen up
the political agenda, more should be done to boost the income of
planning departments. It would be worth identifying wider funding
to recruit, train and retain talent to deliver ambitious plans for
housing growth and to overcome the challenges of red tape.
Let's hope that we can look back in a few years and finally
be able to say that this White Paper helped to make a big
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