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News Analysis: Mix of tenures needed to reboot housebuilding, says Raynsford

Words: Simon Wicks
Nick Raynsford

A “broad-based” programme of housebuilding that accommodates a range of tenures and incomes is necessary to solve the housing crisis, a former Labour housing and planning minister has argued.

Speaking at the 17th annual Bristol Planning Law and Policy Conference, Nick Raynsford and other speakers from across the built environment outlined the measures they would like to see to help solve the UK’s housing crisis.

In particular, there was broad agreement that the government’s forthcoming Housing White Paper should address:

  • The need to look beyond owner-occupation and enable investment in building homes across a range of tenures, especially private rental
  • Investment in construction skills, which are sorely lacking
  • Land value capture so communities can benefit from development
  • Large scale development, ideally in the form of new towns
  • Better mechanisms for land release and assembly, to speed up development
  • Issues around local planning and the NPPF which can delay development – particularly by tackling the systemic failure of the duty to cooperate.

“Planning isn’t the reason why we are not producing enough homes. It’s a very easy for the critics to blame the planners,” said Raynsford. “Planning has an important role to play but not the only one.”

In his keynote speech, the recently retired MP outlined a century of housebuilding in an effort to identify why the volume of houses built had declined so badly in the last few decades.

Raynsford focused on 1980s government policies that had shut off the local authority social housing supply and encouraged homeowners to see their homes as an investment.

Ironically, this had actually led ultimately to a decline in owner-occupation by creating an “army” of small landlords who turned owner-occupied homes into privately rented homes. There was a change of tenure, but no replacement.

“It’s a curious irony that at the time we were building the most homes, we were doing it in ways that reinforced social segregation"

Small housebuilders had also gone into decline, exacerbated by the 2008 crash, while the business model of volume housebuilders meant they had little interest in building any more homes than they did at present.

While arguing for a return to social housebuilding, Raynsford stressed that we needed to learn the lessons of the past and avoid the kind of social segregation that resulted from an earlier era of council house building.

“It’s a curious irony that at the time we were building the most homes, we were doing it in ways that reinforced social segregation. For example, we would have council housing on one site, owner-occupied housing on the other.

There was rarely a mix of tenure and this was a curious aberration from the pattern of history. On the whole, people in different economic conditions have lived in close proximity to one another.”

With a nod to the coming Housing White Paper, Raynsford argued for a focus on:

  • Mixed tenures in developments, not least through a revival of build to rent via institutional investment
  • “Intermediate” housing
  • Restoration of the grant to housing associations
  • Urban densification
  • Investment in construction skills
  • Review of the duty to cooperate
  • New settlements with local support and an emphasis on land value capture
  • Redesignation of some parts of green belt, but with a strict emphasis on restraicting urban sprawl
  • A return to strategic planning
  • Developments that link with transport infrastructure and economic development patterns.

“It’s about planning in the proper sense, planning for the needs of the future and communities, and not just development control,” he said. “Too much of the argument has been about the development control process and not thinking ahead for the needs of the country.”

Larger than local planning

Other speakers developed elements of Raynsford’s case. The TCPA’s interim chief executive Hugh Ellis put a strong case for introducing fresh new towns legislation in the White Paper.

Arguing for new development corporations to manage the process, he suggested that they were the most powerful – and enlightened – planning tool yet developed, and were able to deliver what the NPPF could not.

“The benefits of using the development corporation approach are extraordinary,” said Ellis. “It deals more effectively with issues such as land assembly than the private sector can – Milton Keynes was building more than 4,000 homes a year.”

He added that they were transparent, accountable and “put design and governance and public involvement at the heart of the development process”.

However, for new towns to work, mechanisms for land value capture and better landowner compensation would have to be secured.

“One of the reason we have Trump and Brexit is because planning and many other systems we have for shaping the future have totally lost touch with people’s real lived experience”

“We have never dealt with compensation properly… Isn’t it fair for some of that value to deliver the kinds of places our communities and our nation deserves? Would a modest development tax be a lot easier to implement than the kind of complications you get around section 106?”

Ellis said he hoped the White Paper would mark a total shift in thinking around housing and community-building. “What we need is an entirely different narrative, not purely about economics; a narrative that engages people about their future.

“One of the reason we have Trump and Brexit is because planning and many other systems we have for shaping the future have totally lost touch with people’s real lived experience.”

Jon Neale, head of research UK at commercial property developer JLL, looked at the economic and social implications of Brexit and argued that the dysfunctional housing market had contributed to the dissatisfaction that led to the vote leave the EU.

“The incredible increase in house prices over the last few years is one of the reason we have so many tensions in the UK,” he said.

Neale, like Raynsofrd, argued for a return to regional planning, investment in construction skills and modernisation of construction, such as offsite manufacture.

Cristina Howick, partner of planning consultancy Peter Brett Associates, said she hoped the White Paper would signal a return to larger than local planning.

While arguing that the NPPF was working well in terms of allocating land, she said the passage from allocation to delivery was too long and bumpy. She called for “faster, better local planning”, which would “very soon” lead to everywhere having a post-NPPF local plan.

“Maybe North Korea can teach us something. They probably have up to date local plans for everywhere”

“Personally I would support a more Stalinist system for doing that,” she joked. “Maybe North Korea can teach us something. They probably have up to date local plans for everywhere.”

Alongside this, she said she would replace the duty to cooperate with an obligation to create joint local plans in certain areas, and she would like to see green belt review and a focus on release of small sites because larger schemes take too long to deliver.

Above all, however, Howick argued for substantial reform of local government. Calling for a clear two-tier system of strategic and local planning, she said there were too many local authorities in England and this over-complicated administrative and bureaucratic systems. She would merge many, she said.

Howick also suggested that reform of land and property taxation was necessary to remove the incentive to “over-consume” housing.

“The objective of planning for housing should be to make housing more affordable. It absolutely swims against the current. Everything else, often with the help of government policy, pushes up house prices and makes it harder for those on low incomes,” she said.

The 17th Bristol Planning Law and Policy conference also featured presentations from Taylor Wimpey director Jennie Daly, Rupert Warren QC of Landmark Chambers and immediate past president of the RTPI Janet Askew.