Fixing the Broken Housing Market

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A recent White Paper details how the government plans to get the right new homes built in the right places and help people onto the housing ladder.

February 2017 saw the release of the White Paper ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, which details a number of broad reforms aimed at improving the housing market and getting new homes built.

The reforms in the White Paper are aimed at making sure the housing market works for everyone, including those on lower incomes, renters, the disabled and older people.

There are four main topics:

  1. Planning for the right homes in the right places
  2. Building homes faster
  3. Diversifying the market
  4. Helping people now.

A useful summary of the document is available here

We consider that whilst some of the reforms simply involve tweaking areas of the planning system, others are focused on taking a long-term approach to solving historical problems.

Brownfield sites

For instance, there is continued support for a presumption in favour of brownfield sites, and a £45m fund is available to help councils release their own surplus land for development. This may be helpful to SME builders, who might be able to acquire smaller brownfield sites that are of less interest to the big housebuilders. It also offers councils a way of disposing of unused land that can be costly to maintain.

Councils will also be able to increase application fees by 20% from July 2017 – but the money must be ring-fenced for use directly by their planning departments. This may sound bad for developers but in fact many have already stated they would be in favour of this – if it means planning departments are better staffed and resourced and applications are processed more quickly.

Length of planning permission

Another method suggested to get homes built quickly is to reduce the time a planning permission exists from three to two years to encourage building to start sooner. Some local authorities have already implemented this, but some developers say it is not them causing delays but onerous planning conditions. This is also going to be addressed by allowing the Secretary of State to prohibit any conditions that do not meet national policy tests and is already being addressed through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill.

Unplanned development

Where too few homes are delivered in certain areas, local authorities could be subject to unplanned development. The White Paper states that, from November 2018, if delivery of housing falls below 25 per cent of the housing requirement, “the presumption in favour of sustainable development in the National Planning Policy Framework would apply automatically”. From November 2019 it would apply if delivery falls below 45 per cent, and from November 2020, if it falls below 65 per cent.

This follows on from Gavin Barwell’s Written Ministerial Statement in December, which stated that policies for the supply of housing will not be considered ‘out-of-date’ in line with NPPF para 49 in areas with an adopted Neighbourhood Plan, subject to the following caveats:

  • The written ministerial statement is less than two years old, or the neighbourhood plan has been part of the development plan for two years or less;
  • The neighbourhood plan allocates sites for housing; and
  • The local planning authority can demonstrate a three-year supply of deliverable housing sites.

Standardised approach

The government will also consult “at the earliest opportunity this year” on options for introducing a standardised approach to assessing housing requirements. This will ensure there is consistency across the board, and will benefit LPAs and developers / planning consultants.

It must be noted however, if the new approach is not to be set out until the summer, some local plans could be paused or held in abeyance, even if they are already being subject to independent examination, causing more delay for much-needed housing. However, the White Paper says for local planning authorities to avoid being subject to the standardised methodology for assessing a 5-year housing land supply (5YHLS) and housing delivery and to be able to rely on their own methodology, they will need to have their local plans in place by April 2018. Notwithstanding, we have noticed some emerging Local Plans that have already been put into abeyance whilst the ramifications of the White Paper are considered by councils.

Finally, the White Paper is subject to further consultation from now until May, so it is unlikely we will see any significant changes coming into force before the summer, and many of the proposals are unlikely to come into effect until April 2018.

Read the full White Paper here

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