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Housing white paper: Reaction

Words: Laura Edgar
New housing / Shutterstock

Measures in the housing white paper that support the building of all tenures and aim to cut the timescale for developers to implement a permission have been welcomed by the industry, but quality must not be forgotten and land remains a ‘critical’ barrier.

Communities secretary Sajid Javid launched Fixing our broken housing market yesterday (8 February), stating that “we have to start now” if the demand for housing is to be met.

Building industry committed to reducing time taken to get on site


The Home Builders Federation (HBF), representing house builders, said it is key that all local authorities have an up-to-date local plan for delivering the homes required, therefore measures to “get the 60 per cent who still don’t could be key”.

“Having a plan in place provides certainty for all parties and allows coordinated and structured development to take place.”

HBF also said it is keen to work with the government on proposals to cut the time required for builders to start work once a permission is granted while ensuring that they don’t deter investment or the number of permissions.

Stewart Baseley, executive chairman at the HBF, said: “If we are to build more homes, we need more land coming through the system more quickly. Measures that will allow SME builders to build more homes will increase the capacity of the industry and result in increases in overall supply.”


“Sensible” smoothing of planning system


Matthew Spry, senior director and head of economics at planning consultancy Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners, said the company is pleased that no new planning bill features in the white paper. Instead, it only refers to “regulations that will be amended to require a local plan review at least every five years”.

He said the white paper “represents a sensible smoothing of the rough edges” of the planning system.

The consultancy’s planning director Maggie Baddeley noted that a “vitally important” consultation has been issued alongside the white paper that covers Build to Rent. But, she said, what is “noticeably missing is a decision on what the government intends to do to address the tension between section 106 obligations and community infrastructure levy (CIL), and how that impacts on the delivery of the affordable housing numbers the government is looking for”.

“We have to wait for the Autumn Budget 2017 for the outcome of the CIL review.”

Quality must not be forgotten


Tassos Kougionis, principal consultant in residential at the Building Services Research and Information Association’s (BSRIA) sustainable construction group, said it must not be forgotten that building homes is “a matter of quality as well as quantity”.

“Our current focus on delivering volume makes quality more important than ever. Government, industry and stakeholders all need to work together to guarantee that communities’ needs and well-being are at the very centre of our decisions.”

He added that it is “very important” to see how SME house builders can be supported and increased in numbers because a “more diverse housing delivery model can enhance the industry’s ability to deliver the required numbers while creating new jobs and opportunities that will help in increasing our workforce”.

Not a single measure implemented


“It was hoped that the white paper would result in a step change in the process and procedures slowing the rate of house building,” said Simon Elliott, associate planner at property consultancy Bidwells.

“Unfortunately, this isn’t so much a blueprint for a new housing sector but rather a document setting out what might one day go into that blueprint.”

Although many of the proposals are welcomed, Elliott said it is disappointing that despite “a considerable amount” of consultation being undertaken on the planning system in recent years and an Autumn Statement that made clear that the housing crisis needed to be addressed, “that no single measure to address the crisis is implemented as part of this government announcement”.

He said it is unlikely that changes will be seen before the summer and many would not come into force until April 2018.

Elliott also noted that the white paper doesn’t mention the impact on land values as a result of a more affordable housing market.

Land remains a critical barrier


The National Housing Federation (NHF), representing housing associations, has welcomed the government’s ambition to tackle the “broken housing market”, with the paper and the Autumn Statement pointing towards a “more comprehensive and strategic framework to fix the housing crisis”.

What the nation needs now, said David Orr, chief executive at the NHF, is “unwavering political will and courage to see this through”.

Land, for Orr, remains a “critical barrier”.

“We know there is only enough brownfield land to support less than five years of housing need. We urgently need to have honest conversations about how green belt land is used and we would like to see the government encouraging local authorities to undertake strategic reviews of their green belts.”

Government should be bolder on green belt


The measures outlined in the white paper should go some way towards delivering housing growth, said Andrew Jones, practice leader in design, planning and economics at built environment consultancy AECOM.

Reducing the timescales for developers to implement a permission from three to two years is “encouraging” while strengthening the requirement for local authorities to have up-to-date local plans “is a step in the right direction”.

Like Orr, Jones noted the absence of a green belt review, stating that it is a missed opportunity and the government should have been “bolder” on this issue.

“Leaving responsibility for decisions that affect the green belt wholly with local authorities plays well to local decision-making, but is unlikely to bring forward new schemes quickly.”

While its purpose remains valid, he continued, “there are significant portions of brownfield and other low-environmental value land close to transport links within the green belt that are ripe for development”.

Land banking promise delivered


Jamie McKie, planning senior associate at law firm Dentons, said the government has delivered on its promise to address land banking.

“However, for these proposals to succeed, local planning authorities must redefine their relationship with developers – using the 'sticks' provided by government.”

A faster and easier completion notice process may improve take-up, he said. But he questioned whether local planning authorities would be willing and able to monitor and act on challenging sites with complex reasons for slow delivery. 

“What if the council's own requirements have contributed to it?” he asked.

For McKie, it is “dangerous” to suggest that local planning authorities should take into account major developers' track records in delivery for large-scale sites – as no two sites are the same.  

“There may be genuine reasons for slow delivery, outside the developer's control. The exercise of planning judgement by an authority already involves a difficult balancing act. Introducing a further, heavily subjective, step would make that harder still.”

Tweaks to the status quo


Jonathan Manns, head of regeneration and director of planning at real estate consultancy Colliers International, said the white paper encourages some of the things that “we’ve known we should be doing for a while”.

He noted the support for the private rented sector, small builders and public-sector delivery.

“We’re also told that the private sector will benefit from a quicker, more efficient and reliable approach to processing planning applications. All this at the same time as fixing a broken market, removing one of the biggest barriers to social progress and avoiding any need to rip up the countryside.

"Dig into the (*cough*) detail and, beyond the hollow and misguiding rhetoric, there are the odd tweaks to the status quo.”

He cited the proposal that councils should continue to review their local plans and make sure they are up to date.

For Manns, there is weakness in areas where it really matters.

“Despite demanding that local authorities don’t duck difficult questions, the government has ruled out any consideration of the way in which we could reform the green belt,” he said. There is also no national spatial plan to “balance economic growth or tangible indication of exactly how local authorities will be resourced to deliver their newfound responsibilities”.

Councils need powers to make homes affordable


Martin Tett, housing spokesman at the Local Government Association (LGA), representing councils in England and Wales, said: “Communities must have faith that the planning system responds to their aspirations for their local area, rather than simply being driven by national targets. To achieve this, councils must have powers to ensure that new homes are affordable and meet their assessments of local need, are attractive and well designed, and are supported by the schools, hospitals, roads and other services vital for places to succeed.”

He said all types of homes – including affordable and social rent – have to be built to solve the housing crisis and “flexibility around starter homes is much-needed recognition of this”.

He added that giving councils powers to “force developers to build homes more quickly and to properly fund their planning services are vital for our communities to prosper”.

Read more:

Housing white paper: Government to support SMEs and renters

Comment: A first look at the Housing White Paper

Housing white paper: Right homes, right places

Housing white paper: Building homes faster

Housing white paper: Market diversification

Housing white paper: Government pledges to help people now

Government housing white paper pledges to boost planning resources

Housing white paper: Rising land values not addressed, says RTPI 

Housing white paper: Encouraging, but more clarity is needed

The housing white paper: Surgical repair or sticking plaster?

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