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Queen’s Speech 2016: Reaction

Words: Laura Edgar

A Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill has been announced in the Queen’s Speech, with the industry welcoming the intent to strengthen neighbourhood planning but critical on the privatisation of Land Registry.

The bill’s purpose is to support the government’s ambition to deliver a million new homes while at the same time “protecting those areas that we value most including the green belt,” said the government. 

Greater recognition of factors affecting building rates needed


The RTPI has welcomed the government’s continued commitment to house building in England.

But Stephen Wilkinson, vice-president of the RTPI, said, “greater recognition of the variety of factors affecting the rate of building new homes would give a clearer picture of all the challenges we face and need to get to grips with”.

Investing £100 billion in key infrastructure projects is “good news”. It “crucially” should be planned and coordinated in order to support economic growth and help minister meet their housing ambitions, he said.

Wilkinson concluded: “We also look forward to seeing the detail of the plans for neighbourhood planning as we can, through the RTPI and Planning Aid England, bring a great deal of experience to any suggested reforms in this area.”

‘Encouraged’ by government proposals


Adam Ross, executive director at planning consultancy Nexus Planning, applauded the government’s intention to streamline the pre-commencement conditions to speed up housing development.

He said the use of conditions had increased “considerably” in recent years and had “too often” resulted in the delay of “sorely needed new homes”.

“Whilst pre-commencement conditions are sometimes essential, a significant number can realistically be discharged much later in the development process and many are not required at all. A higher bar for local authorities is required in terms of demonstrating the need for and timing of proposed conditions, and we hope this bill goes some way in addressing this,” he explained.

Not just homes needed, but communities


The government’s commitment to delivering one million homes has been welcomed by the Town and Country Planning Association.

However, Kate Henderson, the association’s chief executive, said: “We must ensure that we aren’t just building homes, we are building communities, and while speeding up the rate of construction will be helpful, we must be careful that this does not lead to a compromise on quality of design or place-making. The government also needs to ensure that councils have enough resources to deliver these plans properly.”

The government has listened


Measures outlined so far, said Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Locality, a network for community-led organisations, indicate that the government “has listened to our concerns over the lack of consistency with local authority legal duty to support, which has caused problems for many groups we have worked with”.

He said neighbourhood planning is a tool to “enable growth and development”, giving communities a chance to be heard in “meaningful” way.

“We support greater transparency and clarity about what exactly this duty should include and we would welcome improvements to reviewing and updating plans to ensure the process is clearer and more streamlined,” he said.

Privatising Land Registry would create ‘market monopoly’


Richard Close, head of lease advisory at property consultancy Daniel Watney LLP, said the Land Registry is a “respected institution largely because of its impartiality - a sell-off may put this under threat”.

“It will only be through public ownership that the Land Registry can continue to take a strategic view on things which might not at first seem commercially appealing, like integrating ‘blockchain’ technology and distributed ledgers to boost trust.”

Private owners, Close added, are less likely to adopt a “one step back, two steps forward’ policy when shareholders have to be appeased.

He also warned that there could be considerable effects for the wider market.

“The property industry already has many valuable private data sources, but passing the registry into private hands would create an immediate market monopoly. Imposing on the sector a single holder of 86 per cent of titles will surely render existing private land data companies redundant and could end up creating a blind spot when these go out of business or start to roll back their research."

More detail needed on pre-commencement measures


The planning system is “often cited as one of the main barriers to development”, with pre-commencement planning conditions an “extra burden” placed on developers, slowing down the process, said Melanie Leech, chief executive of the British Property Federation (BPF).

Although welcoming the proposal, she added: “We would like to see more detail on how this is going to be enforced and how already-stretched local authorities will cope. Conditions for development should be agreed as part of the pre-application process, and we would hope that the planning process is not made over-complicated to compensate.”

Leech also explained that privatisation of the Land Registry could hold “important consequences for the commercial property industry, as security of title is critical to the real estate market”.

It is “hugely important” that any changes to the way that the Land Registry is run do not affect this security so that “investors can be confident that they own their assets and that if, for whatever reason, there has been an error in registering their title then they will receive adequate compensation”.

Addressing housing crisis key maintaining UK’s competitiveness


“Addressing the UK’s escalating housing crisis is key to maintaining the UK’s competitiveness, so we welcome the government’s commitment to building one million new homes,” said John Hicks, director and head of government and public, AECOM.

However, he said focus must extend beyond home ownership and the volume of units so that homes are built as part of sustainable communities, “including transport, supporting social infrastructure and the key to permanent employment: business and industry”.

Read more about the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill here.

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