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15/11/2017

Autumn Budget 2017: Pressure is on the government to deliver on its housing ambitions

New rural housing / Shutterstock_425872609

The looming Budget has put into sharp focus the recent High Court judgement against the government’s assertion that neighbourhood plans are delivering 10 per cent more houses than those planned for by local councils, says Dominick Veasey.

Indeed, it is a timely reminder of the 2012 rhetoric that abolishing regional spatial strategies in favour of localism and neighbourhood planning was the solution to the housing crisis.  

Five years on, the corridors of Whitehall have fallen silent to the cries of ‘localism, localism, localism’. Set by the tone of the housing white paper (Fixing our broken housing market and the more recent Planning for the right homes in the right places consultation document), the faint echoes of ‘centralism, centralism, centralism’ may well start to be heard around the streets of SW1.  

As a result, the government is increasingly being forced into taking an interventionist role at the local level to deliver its housing commitment of one million new homes by 2021. A pre-budget question to communities secretary Sajid Javid must therefore be – does the secretary of state have any regrets over his predecessors’ decision to abolish regional planning?

As confirmed at the Conservative conference, Theresa May has pledged to dedicate much of her focus to fixing the broken housing market. With nine months having passed since the publication of the white paper however, questions remain around what has been achieved – other than further housing delivery delays. Murmurs of a comprehensive review of the National Planning Policy Framework starting early next year only fuel the uncertainty.

Further detail on the £2 billion for council and housing associations to fund a "new generation" of affordable homes is expected in the Budget. However, given this fund would only deliver 25,000 affordable homes by 2021, it is unlikely to go far enough. The government’s own housing statistics confirm that the last time housing completions were at the level now required to meet England’s housing need (260,000 homes per year) was in the late 1970s, at a time when we were delivering more than 110,000 new council houses per annum.  

The Budget will no doubt also include further funding and financial incentives to help people afford a home. However, rising interest rates and continued Brexit uncertainty are likely to dampen any financial incentives for the housing market. One thing is assured, however: pressure on the secretary of state to deliver housing is mounting by the day.

As part of the Budget, our greatest hope must be for clarity and a clear timeline of what and when the proposed reform elements are going to take effect. Overall, if the government has any chance of saving face on its housing commitments by 2021, it needs to be decisive and fast acting. All eyes will therefore be focused on the chancellor to see whether the government is truly serious about delivering on its housing ambitions.    

Dominick Veasey MRTPI is an associate director at Nexus Planning

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