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Capacity funding welcome, but more can be done to tackle housing crisis

Words: Laura Edgar

Industry professionals have welcomed the new capacity fund announced by housing minister Gavin Barwell, but said further measures are required to tackle the housing crisis in the forthcoming housing white paper.

The £18 million fund aims to accelerate the delivery of up to 800,000 homes and infrastructure across large sites in England. It would primarily be aimed at large sites of 1,500 dwellings or more.

Barwell also announced six new Housing Zones and support and funding for a new locally led garden town at Otterpool Park in Shepway, Kent.

Certainly good news


Matthew Spry, senior director, Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners (NLP), told The Planner the move is a welcome one.

“We know that lots of local authorities and planning departments are struggling when it comes to resources. Having a sum of money that they can apply to that focused on large-scale developments is certainly good news.”

Spry referred to research that NLP published last week, which suggested that it takes twice as long to decide upon schemes comprising over 2,000 homes.

He said the research showed that it is not the planning system that is wrong, but that large developments are complex – there is a lot tied to them, including infrastructure requirements, legal agreements and pre-commencement conditions. This is work, he said, that would need to be done whatever the planning system looked like, and therefore, funding capacity is good idea.

And £18 million that has to be used in 2016/2017 is lot of money for one year.

Essential government supports place-making


The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) welcomed the government’s continued recognition of the role new communities can play in tackling the housing crisis.

Capacity funding has helped members of the TCPA’s New Communities Group by helping to finance new staff to deal with complex applications and assessments, the organisation told The Planner.

However, “it is essential that government supports places which commit to high placemaking standards and we look forward to seeing the criteria for capacity funding, as well as the details of how the capacity funding works alongside the government’s ‘Garden Villages, Towns and Cities’ programme”, it added.

Katy Lock, the TCPA’s garden cities & new towns advocate, added that while capacity funding is a “useful way” to help councils to deal with the complex job of delivering a new community, “if government is really committed to tackling the housing shortage we need to see comprehensive measures set out in the forthcoming housing white paper”.

This, she said, should include a commitment to modernising the New Towns Act to help deliver genuinely affordable and high-quality new communities.

Housing strategy should include council house building renaissance


Martin Tett, housing spokesman at the Local Government Association, said: “We are pleased the government has responded to our call for more support for councils to deliver homes through proactively working with developers and partners to unlock sites that may have stalled. Councils are committed to working with partners to increase building, and are approving almost nine in 10 planning applications.”

Councils, Tett said, are best placed to bridge the gap between housing need and future building levels and “are keen to see and support delivery at speed”.

However, a housing strategy should include measures that “create a renaissance in council house building”.

To do this, Tett said the government needs to introduce measures that allow councils to borrow to invest in housing and keep 100 per cent of the receipts from properties sold through Right to Buy to build new homes.

“More can also be done to put council planning departments on a more sustainable financial footing. Allowing councils to set planning fees locally is also essential to allow them to cover costs and continue to develop a proactive planning approach to secure the right infrastructure to support developments and unlock housing growth,” he concluded.

Planners need to be supported


The RTPI welcomed Barwell’s announcement.

The institute said the announcement shows that it is “more important than ever that planners are supported to be able to utilise their expertise to shape and create communities – providing not just houses but well-designed places for people to live and work in”.   

The RTPI recently launched 16 recommendations for tackling the housing crisis, including letting local authorities charge the planning fees they need to properly resource their planning service.

Read: #RTPI16Ways to address the housing crisis here.

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