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07/09/2015

100 days: How well is the new government solving the housing crisis?

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It's more than 100 days since the Tories won the election – Rob Hopwood, planning partner at Bidwells, assesses the performance of new communities secretary Greg Clark in making a difference for the planning and development of new homes and jobs

Rob Hopwood BidwellsFree of its coalition partners, we were assured there is a new clarity of purpose for the government which is now able to ramp up policy and to implement its goals. Those of us working in the planning sector knew that Greg Clark would not take the limelight as did his predecessor Eric Pickles; however, perhaps we were hoping for more from 100 days in post?

Certainly we have seen high level speeches and statements for the government's longer term investment in the country and its promotion of a dynamic economy via 'Fixing the Foundations' and the ‘Rural Productivity Plan’.

Expanding villages

With the Tories claiming they are the party to protect the green belt and the countryside, a Rural Productivity Plan suggests it will help deliver a significant contribution to the 200,000 starter homes initiative by expanding villages, in an incremental way, subject of course to local agreement! 

However it is difficult to see how through these fundamental principles of localism, the target can be delivered on the ground. All the housing elements within the Rural Productivity Plan appear to be recycled from before the election including speeding up the planning process, making it easier for neighbourhood plans to allocate housing (market affordable as opposed to social housing), further changes to reviewing thresholds for agricultural buildings to convert to residential dwellings, and facilitating faster negotiations in Section 106 Agreements to allow housing starts to proceed more quickly.

Rural businesses

It is also clear 100 days in, that the government hasn't formed a plan to tackle key constraints facing rural businesses and what, if any, solutions may help promote a dynamic economy.  However it could be a while yet before any views are formed on this through the Rural Productivity Plan as government is looking for evidence from the public in the Autumn, with any fresh policies to be made next year.

Brandon Lewis, minister for housing and planning appears to be continuing with his usual mantra from last year on giving the power to local councils to make local decisions about employing enough planners to process applications. It seems that Greg Clark is leaving much of the big stuff to George Osborne and other ministers – and just chipping in with a few helpful and supportive comments as appropriate.

Cutting red tape

We know that the government has been trying to cut planning red tape in particular for some time over the last few years and has been generally successful in reducing the amount of paperwork by introducing its 'live working' Planning Practice Guidance on the web.

Star quality

So, how has Greg Clark scored in his first 100 days? A slower and quieter start than anticipated but some positive signs that development and growth remains on the agenda means that overall the verdict is a mixed/could-do better (scores are out of five stars).

Cutting red tape (PPG, GPDO)   ***

Speeding up Planning Application Decisions   *

Speeding up local plans to adoption2    **

Neighbourhood plans adoption3    ***

Delivery of market housing4    ***

Delivery of affordable market housing5    **

Delivery of private rented sector housing   **

Delivery of social housing   0

Total    16/358    (46%)8


Notes:
0    Eric Pickles mostly credited thus far
1    Not enough planning officers in LPAs.  Planning by appeal.
2    Maldon case
3    Number of NP's increasing but do they increase delivery of housing?
4    Completions up, starts down (recent government figures)
5    Starter Homes Initiative for brownfield land and rural areas initiated
6    Left to the private sector to promote
7    No policies in place for this.  Not counted.
8    Pass rate 40%, 'E' for Effort, must try harder

Rob Hopwood is planning partner at Bidwells, one of the UK's oldest and largest property consultancies

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