The Government have recently published the Housing White Paper with a pledge to fix the broken housing market. The Government’s key intention is to build more homes that are affordable, quicker and in locations that people want to live.
The principal proposals of the Housing White Paper are summarised below.
The proposed mandatory requirement for Starter Homes to comprise 20% of all developments has been scrapped. The Government are proposing a ‘clear policy expectation’ that 10% affordable home ownership units will be delivered on housing sites. A statutory requirement for Starter Homes is not proposed and it will be for local authorities and developers to agree an appropriate level of Starter Homes, alongside other forms of affordable housing.
Starter Homes will be available to people who have an income of less than £80,000 (£90,000 in London) and a mortgage.
In an effort to increase the delivery of new homes (and avoid land banking) the Government is proposing to reduce the timescales for developers to implement planning permission from three to two years.
The Government are also considering whether a developer’s failure to implement previous planning permissions on a site, which demonstrates a lack of intention to build, should be a material consideration in the determination of a planning application.
In addition, the Government are proposing to simplify and speed up the completion notice process, whereby if development on a site has stopped and there is no prospect of completion, the local authorities can withdraw planning permission for the remainder of the site.
Local Plans & Housing Need
The Government will insist that every local authority has an up-to-date Local Plan, identifying sites to deliver forecast housing growth. The intention is to make Local Plans simpler to produce with a requirement that they are reviewed at least once every five years. Where this is not achieved, the Government will intervene “to ensure that plans are put in place, so that communities in the areas affected are not disadvantaged by unplanned growth.”
The Government will consult on a standardised approach to the assessment of housing requirements, in an effort to address a complex system that lacks transparency and, in the words of the Government, has resulted in lengthy and costly delays with some local authorities being able to avoid providing their fair share of housing.
Developers have for a number of years cited concerns about resourcing in local authority planning departments, highlighting this as a reason for slow delivery of housing. From July 2017, local authorities will be able to increase fees by 20%, provided they "commit to invest the additional fee income in their planning department”. The Government are also considering whether local authorities who are delivering the homes their communities need, should be able to increase fees by a further 20%.
Whilst the need for increased resource within local planning authorities is clear, there is potential that planning fees could, in certain locations, increase considerably. The planning fees for certain major developments are already high and if developers are to pay increased fees, they will want assurance from local planning authorities that applications will be considered in a timely manner.
The Government have further strengthened their commitment to Neighbourhood Planning by making additional funding available to neighbourhood planning groups. In addition, the White Paper proposes that Neighbourhood Plans will be able to, amongst other things, set out clear design expectations and include neighbour development orders that make it clear that, in principle, certain development in the Green Belt will not be considered inappropriate.
The content of the Written Ministerial Statement of 12/12/16 is reiterated, which seeks to provide greater certainty for those neighbourhoods that have produced plans but are at risk from speculative development because of a lack of five-year land supply. Provided there is not a significant lack of land supply, neighbourhood plans will be protected.
The White Paper reaffirms the Government’s commitment to protecting the Green Belt. It is proposed that national policy is amended to make it clear that Green Belt boundaries should only be amended when they can demonstrate that they have examined fully all other reasonable options. This includes a requirement to demonstrate that the opportunities afforded by brownfield site have been fully maximised. In addition, it is proposed that if land is to be removed from the Green Belt, local policies should require “the impact to be offset by compensatory improvements to the environmental quality or accessibility of remaining green belt land."
Density & Brownfield Land
The continued commitment to maximising opportunities afforded by brownfield land, by building at higher densities, is highlighted in the White Paper. The Government propose to amend national policy to make it clear that plans and individual development proposals should "make efficient use of land and avoid building homes at low densities" and "address the particular scope for higher-density housing in urban locations that are well served by public transport”.
Build to Rent
The White Paper sets out the Government’s intension to make it easier for developers of purpose-built developments for the rental market to offer affordable private rented homes instead of other forms of affordable housing. The definition of affordable housing will be revised to make it clear that affordable private rent can count as a form of affordable housing.
Public Sector Development
The Government wants to release surplus public land with capacity for 160,000 homes, during the current Parliament and are working with local authorities to deliver the same number of units on land within Council’s ownership. To do this, a new £45 million Land Release Fund is being set up and it is proposed that Council’s will be able to dispose of land with the benefit of planning permission, which they have granted to themselves.
The preferred partners for these developments are small and medium sized developers and house builders who will have potential access to “new Accelerated Construction programme.”
In an effort to avoid unnecessary planning appeals, and therefore save time and tax payers money, the Government are proposing to introduce a fee for making a planning appeal. A capped fee of £2,000 for a planning inquiry, is provided as an example.
Community Infrastructure Levy
A review of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL), which is published alongside the White Paper, recommends that CIL should be replaced with a 'hybrid system' of a low level tariff for all developments and section 106 for larger developments
The view is that CIL "is not fulfilling the original intention of providing a faster, fairer, simpler, more certain and more transparent way of ensuring that all development contributes something towards cumulative infrastructure need and that it has also disrupted and complicated the section 106 arrangements which, though much criticised, actually worked reasonably well for many sites."
There are many aspects of the White Paper that should be welcomed, particularly the recognition of the need to standardise the assessment of housing need and provide Councils with the means to ensure their Planning Departments are adequately resourced. The latter has, in certain cases, delayed developers’ desire to deliver housing promptly, including affordable housing, in locations where there is a clear need. The recognition of the role that the public sector has in delivering homes through the disposal of surplus land and the provision of funds to help facilitate this, is also welcomed. It will hopefully result in more public sector bodies reviewing their assets and, where appropriate, either bringing forward planning applications or disposing of surplus land to developers as a matter of priority.
The importance of Neighbourhood Planning to the Government is once again highlighted in the White Paper. In light of the Ministerial Statement and the proposals in the White Paper, there is no doubt in our minds that more Parish Councils will move quickly to prepare Neighbourhood Plans, in an effort to retain a degree of control and limit the potential for unplanned growth resulting from a Council’s inability to demonstrate an adequate supply of housing sites.
However, notwithstanding the positives, successive Governments have put forward measures to address the housing crisis and many of the proposals put forward by the Government are not new and either reaffirm previous statements, or build on existing national policy. The success of the proposals will, as always, depend on the detail that follows and how effective their implementation is on the ground. Accordingly, we await the final detail with interest.