In his budget on the 8th July, the Chancellor indicated further detail would emerge as a variety of bills and further papers were published. Today we got the next significant batch as Fixing the foundations: Creating a more prosperous nation (otherwise known as the Productivity Plan) was published.
Within section B – A dynamic economy – the government set out their aspirations to reform planning, to build more homes to buy, steps to full employment, and of course progress with the Northern Powerhouse. Most of the statements on employment and progress with the Northern Powerhouse reiterate the Budget and consequently are not repeated here. This paper focuses on proposed changes to planning.
Planning freedoms and more houses to buy
The Chancellor has identified that an effective land and housing market will benefit productivity as it enables local economies to adapt, allowing firms to create jobs near their locations and enabling people to live (and by this the inference is on “own”) near to their place of employment. Clearly we are pleased that “building the right homes in the right places” is recognised as part of wider economic and productivity agenda, a mantra that the Consortium has been repeating for some time. We welcome this focus on housing, although the apparent overriding push on home ownership does raise some issues.
To support this effective strategy the Chancellor has identified the need for further planning reforms. He believes these reforms would form an important facet of the government’s ambition to build 200,000 starter homes and 275,000 affordable homes by 2020 acknowledging that under current planning rules these targets would be missed.
Fixing the foundations states the government will take further action to ensure that local authorities put local plans in place by a set deadline to be confirmed by summer recess (which is no later than Tuesday 21st July). It also contains plans for the government to begin publishing league tables, setting out local authorities’ progress on providing a plan for the jobs and homes needed locally.
The planning reforms also allow for Secretary of State intervention with those local authorities that do not have a plan in place, as the SoS will arrange for local plans to be written in consultation with local people. This has led to criticism that the measures amount to “the nationalisation of planning”. Furthermore, the government (which hitherto had shied away from issuing detailed guidance) has stated they will strengthen guidance on the operation of the duty to cooperate on key housing and planning issues.
The government has already committed to legislating for statutory registers of brownfield land suitable for housing in England. Today, the Chancellor has announced that the government will go further by legislating to grant automatic permission in principle on brownfield sites identified on those registers, subject to the approval of a limited number of technical details. What these technical details will entail will likely be further explored throughout the passage of this legislation through Parliament. The government notes that on brownfield sites, this will give England a ‘zonal’ system reducing unnecessary delay and uncertainty for brownfield development.
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) have estimated that councils have identified capacity for at least 1 million new homes on brownfield land, that sites with existing planning permission can accommodate more than 405,000 homes, and a further 550,000 homes can be located on suitable vacant or derelict land.
It also states that the government is considering the case for additional compulsory purchase reforms to further modernise the system for the government’s ‘brownfield first’ policy and notes that the government will bring forward proposals in the autumn.
Fixing the foundations includes the right for major infrastructure projects that include elements of housing development to be fast-tracked through the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Programme regime (NSIP) – meaning the project does not need to go through full democratic consultation. Additionally, the government will include measures to improve the planning performance regime so that local authorities making less than half of the planning decisions submitted to them on time are at risk of fines.
Other plans include legislation to introduce a fast-track certificate process for minor development proposals as well as establishing targets from the previous Parliament to reduce regulation on house builders. Again, the classification of ‘minor development proposals’ will be something that will be explored in the legislative process.
The document states that “the government does not intend to proceed with the zero carbon Allowable Solutions carbon offsetting scheme, or the proposed 2016 increase in on-site energy efficiency standards, but will keep energy efficiency standards under review, recognising that existing measures to increase energy efficiency of new buildings should be allowed time to become established”. This fits more widely with the government’s agenda of cutting red tape to allow businesses to thrive.
The government is introducing a commitment to introduce a dispute resolution mechanism for section 106 agreements to “speed up negotiations and allow housing starts to proceed more quickly”.
Starter Homes and the right to buy
The government remains committed to getting 200,000 Starter Homes built by 2020 at a 20% discount for young first time buyers. To do so, local authorities are required to plan proactively for the delivery of Starter Homes; extend the current exception site policy and strengthen the presumption in favour of Starter Homes developments, and enable communities to allocate land for starter home developments including through neighbourhood plans.
Additionally, it includes the requirement to ensure every reasonably sized housing site includes a proportion of Starter Homes. If this requirement is dealt with via S106 obligations it does raise question how whether rented homes will not be included in S106 agreements.
Interestingly, Fixing the foundations states that in the Spending Review (due in October/November), the government will take “further steps to refocus DCLG budgets to focus on supporting low cost home ownership for first time buyers” and the Northern Housing Consortium will monitor how this takes shape. While there is no further detail on this the “refocusing” suggests this is not new money.
There are no further details on how the extension to the right to buy will operate but this will be elaborated on when the Housing Bill is introduced in this session of Parliament.
We will continue to monitor the emerging detail from the Budget and work with NHC members and government in the run up to the Spending Review. Our parliamentary briefing is issued weekly and will detail relevant parliamentary activity – including bill progress and key debates, and parliamentary questions. If you don’t yet subscribe to the parliamentary briefing you can sign up here.
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