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What should Javid and Barwell’s planning priorities be?

Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell

New Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Sajid Javid as the communities secretary and Gavin Barwell as the minister for housing and planning as part of a cabinet reshuffle. Here, Adele Maher writes about what she thinks their priorities should be.

I welcome the appointment of the new communities secretary Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell, as minister of state for housing, planning and minister for London.

Government has made it clear that addressing the housing crisis is a priority and both will be expected to increase the number of homes being built.

With this in mind, I propose the following as reasonable and necessary starting points to help meet the challenges ahead.

Show leadership and provide stability


Javid and Barwell have inherited a planning system in the throes of major change, with details still to be worked through, for example:

  • The practical details on how many aspects of the Housing and Planning Act will work in practice remains absent, pending secondary legislation.

  • Draft amendments to the NPPF, including a revision to the definition affordable housing to include starter homes, has also been left hanging.

  • The mooted overhaul of the NPPF and revisions to CIL.

  • Publication of the Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill, announced in the Queen’s speech in May.

Planning in a period of legislative change is difficult and has introduced uncertainty, which hampers development. For instance:

  • How do you negotiate the value of land when it is not clear what the role of starter homes is in the delivery of affordable housing and, critically, who pays for its discounted delivery?

  • How do you positively prepare a new local plan without this clarity?

  • How will local authorities meet their duty to plan for affordable homes of all tenures, particularly social and affordable rent, if a minimum of 20 per cent starter homes is a blanket requirement?

  • How can local authorities in constrained high-value urban areas like London, ever hope to contribute more affordable homes, when the implication of policies such as: right to buy; the sale of high-value vacant properties; and restrictions on returned value raised and borrowing hopelessly, results in fewer homes rather than more?

Sajid Javid and Gavin Barwell have an opportunity to show true leadership through the following short and long-term actions proposed:

  • Recognising that the uncertainty created is hindering development.

  • Understanding and acknowledging the gravity of the issues identified and the negative implications for the future of affordable housing, including reduced output of social and affordable rent, and committing to planning for all people and tenures.

  • Accepting a more practical and pragmatic role for starter homes in the secondary legislation, as a tool for delivering more homes where appropriate, to be determined by the relevant planning authority.

  • Valuing the potential of local authorities to deliver more homes and committing to review the primary legalisation on Right to Buy and Vacant High Value Proprieties and regulatory framework on borrowing, if required, to positively encourage this.

These points could take the form of a ministerial statement in the short term, providing stability in the short term and setting a clear direction of the future. The secondary legislation, publication of which is expected later in the autumn, could potentially address some of the issues. It is likely that the parts of the primary legislation may need to be reviewed or replaced in the longer term.

In conclusion, Theresa May has recognised that planning for the future of the country requires an approach that addresses the needs of all members of our communities, not just “the privileged few”. It is important that this ethos is brought back to the very heart of planning. My hope is that Javid and Barwell will embrace this message and positively lead DCLG to responsibly plan for our future, as part of this government's “mission to build a better Britain… and making it a country that works… for every one of us”.

Adele Maher is strategic planning manager at the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She was highly commended in the RTPI Awards for Planning Excellence 2016 in the Young Planner of the Year category.


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