Home plan

Planning, housing and developers got a double boost with the 2020 Budget, followed by the announcement of a long list of planning reforms…

The spring 2020 Budget gave some good news to house builders (and goodness knows everyone needs some good news at the moment!).

The Chancellor, in his debut Budget, promised that the government would undertake a stricter approach with planning authorities in a bid to speed up developments stating that where  councils fail to meet local housing need, “there will be firm consequences, including a stricter approach taken to the release of land for development and greater government intervention”.

This will be a welcome development for house builders and developers, who have often been at the mercy of the costly and drawn out planning application process.

Accompanying documents say that “land availability, as constrained by the planning system, is the most significant barrier to building more houses”.

Does this mean that the government is really going to shake up the system, or will they simply be re-badging previous threats? We watch with interest to see how this will unfold.

Cash boosts

There’s also some good news when it comes to building new homes, as there was a £12bn multi-year boost for the new Affordable Homes Programme. Also, interest on loans from the Public Works Loan Board (used by councils to fund house building), is to be cut by one per cent.

The Housing Infrastructure Fund is to make £1.1bn of new allocations, which should open up 70,000 homes in areas of high demand. This, coupled with a new £400m fund to facilitate builds on brownfield sites, is more good news for developers. Government documents called it, “a new £400 million brownfield fund for pro-development councils and ambitious mayoral combined authorities with the aim of creating more homes by bringing more brownfield land into development’’.

Budget documents also revealed that the government is to “explore long-term reforms to the planning system, rethinking planning from first principles, to ensure the system is providing more certainty to the public, local planning authorities and developers”.

OxCam Arc

The government will also “examine and develop the case for up to four new development corporations in the OxCam Arc at Bedford, St Neots/Sandy, Cambourne and Cambridge, which includes plans to explore the case for a new town at Cambridge, to accelerate new housing and infrastructure development.”

This is really interesting for us here at Apex Planning Consultants – and our clients – as we live and work within the OxCam Arc, and arguably development corporations could create greater impetus and surety for those wanting to drive the development of the Arc forward. We have said for some time that we felt a National Planning Policy Statement was required to set the framework, because the fact that there are so many councils along the Arc has meant it has been hard to have a cohesive plan.

Hopefully this will see the development corporations drive plans forward and provide a framework for landowners and other stakeholders to interact, providing opinions via consultation and information that is key to good decision-making, thus allowing the master-planning of the Arc and working towards the nitty-gritty detail of development.

Oxford to Cambridge Expressway

Another major focus for this region was the announcement of the “largest ever investment in English strategic roads, with over £27 billion between 2020 and 2025” along with “unprecedented investment in urban transport, with £4.2 billion for five-year, integrated transport settlements for eight city regions on top of £1 billion allocated to shovel-ready transport scheme.”

We had hoped this would mean we would finally get the green light for the Oxford to Cambridge expressway. However, the Road Investment Strategy (RIS2),  says that the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Expressway has been shelved, stating “we are now pausing further development of the scheme while we undertake further work on other potential road projects that could support the government’s ambition for the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, and benefit people who live and work there, including exploring opportunities to alleviate congestion around the Arc’s major economic centres such as Milton Keynes.”

Cash for homes

More cash was promised, with allocations from the Housing Infrastructure Fund totalling £1.1 billion for nine different areas; that July’s comprehensive spending review will see the launch of a “new long-term Single Housing Infrastructure Fund”; a £10.9 billion increase in housing investment in a bid to comply with the commitment to build a million new homes by the end of the Parliament, and an average of 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s, along with another £9.5 billion for the Affordable Homes Programme.

The pledge for more money to housing investment and affordable homes is always welcome. However, we wonder whether it will be available to small / medium sized sites to support SME builders or will it just be allocated to large housebuilders and strategic sites. The National Planning Policy Framework (para. 68) acknowledges that: “Small and medium sized sites can make an important contribution to meeting the housing requirement of an area and are often built-out relatively quickly.” So it is clear that such sites should be viewed as an important tool to help meet the goal of delivering 300,000 homes a year and are more likely to be delivered by SME builders.

It seems there  are more changes on the way, as the long-awaited Planning White Paper is set to appear in the spring.

Planning reforms

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick announced a long list of reforms including:

  • New permitted development rights regarding building upwards – due summer 2020
  • Consultation on a potential new permitted development right, which would mean vacant buildings could be demolished to make way for new homes
  • Community and self-build housing schemes to get more support – including on identifying suitable plots of land
  • New Homes Bonus review – to make sure those councils building homes can access more funding
  • Planning fee revision to reward performance and open up resources
  • Automation of rebate fees when planning application appeals are successful
  • Create greater transparency on land ownership
  • Make it easier for local councils to use compulsory purchase orders
  • First Homes scheme to continue
  • Encourage partnerships between developers and local authorities to enable delivery of the first wave of new homes
  • Revise National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to encourage good design
  • Give communities more influence over design of developments
  • Review policy for building in areas at flood risk
  • Future Homes Standard due 2025, including requirement for 80% lower carbon emissions for new homes
  • Plans to create a new net zero carbon housing development in the East Midlands.

Next month we will look at the beautiful development schemes that Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, has mentioned previously – referred to within our blog: What’s in store for planning post Brexit.

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